The school district covers most of the cost of almost US$8,000, so that she can have the best possible hearing. It also provides a teaching assistant to help in the classroom, facilitating perfect communication between the teacher and her students.
When a new semester commences, Bryer tells her students exactly what they are in for.
"Hello, my name is Miss Bryer. I am hearing impaired. If you have a problem with my hearing aids, you can go and see the principal," she tells them. She also declares her classroom a quiet zone to avoid noise clutter. Small-talk is banned. Questions about the academic subject matter are highly encouraged. "And," she adds, "don't mess with my hearing."
The students seem to accept the ground rules. She is popular and respected among them, especially among those of Iranian background, because for years she was the only teacher in the school who made the effort to communicate with them or their parents in their own language, when necessary.
The exception was a boy in 1999 who repeatedly called her a "deaf pig" to her face. She did not hear it. But a fellow teacher told her. Bryer had analog hearing aids, at the time. At the next lesson, she turned their volume all the way up. When she heard the boy talking about her again as the "deaf pig", she reported the humiliating behavior to the principal. But the boy's parents were influential at the school, and no steps were taken to punish him.
"My parents and friends always loved me as I am. No one else ever called me a deaf pig. My sister researched the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and told me, my rights had been violated," Bryer says.
She refused to put up with it. She went to the deputy school superintendent and threatened legal action unless the boy was disciplined. A formal investigation concluded that the boy had committed what the law defines as a hate motivated incident against Bryer. But he escaped being transferred from the school or even making a formal apology.
Bryer attributes her developing endometrial cancer to the stress from the incident. She is still unhappy about the lack of backing from her then principal. But she is proud that she stood up for the rights of herself and, in the process, other hearing impaired people. And, whereas the school authorities failed to punish the boy, Bryer received strong support from faculty colleagues and the students.
"It was a turning point for me," she says. "It made me an activist."
Today, at her school, she gets the royal treatment. As a highly skilled language teacher, she has been identified by the school authorities as being in a critically needed field and deserving of the best hearing aid-technology and continued classroom assistance. If anything, Bryer has gained in confidence from her battles. Her cancer is cured. Thanks to her new hearing aids, she is now able to take care of business, even on the telephone.
"And one schmuck in 33 years isn't so bad," she says about her only serious run-in with a student in a long career.
Just as Cassie Bryer has learned from her hearing-impairment, that the ear for languages is in your head and not in your ears, she has learned from her battles of the need to stand up for herself.
In January of 2003, Bryer was included in the Who is Who Among American Teachers. She was nominated for this honor by a University High School graduate, who as the class valedictorian named Bryer as the teacher who influenced and inspired her the most.
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