IE 39 Interview Transcript With Joe Rivera. Lessons Learned From Teaching The Deaf.

SUNG LEE: Average person being an extraordinary teacher. It’s kind of like Clark Kent becoming Superman. This is Inspiring Educators, Episode No. 39.

Joe Rivera is a middle school and high school teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing students at the Los Angeles Marlton schools. As a high school student, Joe was already assisting his teachers communicate with the deaf students through sign language. His compassion for these special group of students would eventually lead Joe to pursue a career in teaching and providing guidance for the deaf.
Joining us is our inspiring educator, Mr. Joe Rivera. Welcome Joe.

JOE RIVERA: Hey. Thank you so much, Sung.

SUNG: You know, very honored to have you here. Joe, there is a whole group of students, the deaf, the blind, and severely disabled, who are often forgotten by the general public, but teachers like yourself not only have taken on a very tough assignment but are making sure your students don’t slip through the social gap, but rather you’re also making sure that they assert themselves in their world.
But part to getting in depth with the tributes and challenges of your work, I was wondering if you can share with the audience about yourself, your upbringing. If you can share with us about, you know, where you grew up, and who or what was your inspiration.

JOE: Absolutely. So my name is Joe Rivera. I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley in California, um, more specifically the Granada Hills area. Um, I am a very proud Latino of two Mexican parents, uh, first generation here. Uh, I grew up speaking Spanish, and it wasn’t until I entered school that I started learning English. Um, yeah, man. LA — LA has been my home.

SUNG: So you are growing up as a ESL — well, it was call– we used to call it English second language — but English language development — but you were actually growing up, uh, you know, picking up — learning English as well, too. So you were you born here then?

JOE: Yeah. Yeah. I was born here but, again, being the first son to my parents who are immigrants here, I learned Spanish first. That was the only language I knew. It wasn’t until I entered school — preschool that I started learning English.

SUNG: Uh-huh.

JOE: My mom tells me how frustrated I would be because I didn’t understand my teachers.

SUNG: Sure.

JOE: Um, I personally don’t remember it too well, but I can only imagine.

SUNG: You know, I can sure empathize with you because I remember those, you know, first year especially the first several months not even knowing how to ask teacher to go to the restroom, right?

JOE: Absolutely.

SUNG: I mean, these are just common struggles, and I think, you know, you are very fortunate if you were growing up here and English is you first language, and I think it also lends to, you know — the limitation of your language also limits your confidence as well, doesn’t it?

JOE: Yeah. It does.

SUNG: So, um, growing up, I mentioned earlier, you know, about the fact that you were already teaching –or not teaching, I’m sorry. You were already helping your teachers, you know, kind of bridge a communication gap between the hard of hearing. How did that occur?

JOE: Uh, you know what? I, uh — they offered American Sign Language at my high school as a second language, but I had already started learning French in middle school. I always had this big passion for just culture and language period, and I kind of felt I had already committed to French. So I decided to stick it out through my high school years, but around my second year in high school, maybe third year, I had a few friends who were in the American Sign Language class, and it was just really cool to see them communicate with each other without moving their mouths, without sounds being produced. So it all kind of just started in this interest in learning this secret language, or what I thought was a secret language.

SUNG: That’s right.

JOE: I didn’t really think it would lead me to this. I thought it was just going to be something else to have underneath my belt, something cool to do with my friends, but it actually opened up, um, opened up some doors, so, yeah.
I was — I was in one of my high school classes, after I started picking up some of the vocabulary, I started meeting some deaf people there and one of my friends, um, her interpreter would occasionally show up late, and I would try to help her out as much as I could, which wasn’t too much now that I think back. But it was something. It was something, and it was kind of from that experience that this took off.
I was getting ready to go to college and everybody was asking, you know, “What are you gonna major in? What are you gonna major in?” And I was one of those undecided people.

SUNG: Yeah. Sure.

JOE: Um, and for some reason I thought that was — I felt like that was — I felt like that was a bad thing at the time. I felt like it was a bad thing that I was about to go into college and I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
Um, luckily my friend from this class, she was like, “You know, why don’t you — why don’t you do sign language interpreting? You know, it seems to come to you. You know, like, you’re enjoying it. You’re invested in it. Like, why not?” And at that — at that time, uh, I just said, “You know what? That’s better than going, again, undecided. I’m just gonna go ahead and do it.” And I signed up as an undergrad, uh, for deaf studies.

SUNG: And where did you go to school, uh, to, uh, earn your degree?

OE: I went to Cal State Northridge.

SUNG: And what was the program like? You’re sitting in a classroom and, uh, just, uh, what — in terms of — what specific things other than signing is there?

JOE: Yeah. So, you know, it was two very interesting experiences. There was the experience of being in a classroom to learn American Sign Language. It was the first time I was in a classroom that was so quiet because everything was done in sign. The teacher was deaf, um, and we were all expected to communicate using sign language, which was, I thought, was one of the best experiences.
And then the other part of it was realizing that there was this whole culture. There was this whole culture that came with the deaf community. That it wasn’t just, you know, the language or it wasn’t that it was their inability to hear, but, again, that there was a whole culture surrounded around — honestly, primarily their language. They’re very proud of American Sign Language, and there’s this constant struggle of getting recognition for being a full-fledged language.

SUNG: You know, one thing that I always found interesting, Joe, is, you know, you look at all these different nations, different cultures and the language that goes along with it, and it was not until I was talking to one of my Danish friend, and she’s also an interpreter at a school, and I was thinking, you know, is sign language universal? Can American Sign Language be more or less interpreted as the same in Denmark or Germany, and I was kind of surprised to find out that it’s not necessarily the same, right?

JOE: It’s actually not. And it’s very interesting too because you’ll see difference — regional differences, for example. So even within the United States, you’ll find some variances in the language.

SUNG: Hmm.

JOE: If you’re from the East, if you’re from the West, if you’re from a small town. I have a deaf cousin in Mexico, and I was not able to communicate with him, and it was the same thing. It’s just understanding that they are different languages. They are signed languages, but that’s why it’s called American Sign Language or Mexican Sign Language.

SUNG: Uh-huh.

JOE: Because it’s very particular to that region.

SUNG: It’s funny because I thought, gosh, if there’s one language that can actually, you know, have a common language, you would think that sign language would be the perfect medium, right?

JOE: Yeah, right? I mean, it’s interesting because, you know, for example, British Sign Language compared to American Sign Language, even the alphabet is different. So they really are different languages, but, you know, one of the great things — one of the great things about it being its own language — there’s a lot of really great things about it being its own language, but something that I run across in my classroom is when a lot of my immigrant parents, a lot of them speak Spanish and they tell me, “I feel like I can’t teach my kid Spanish because I don’t know English, and I can’t sign,” and there’s this — I kind of have to explain to them, “You can teach them Spanish without knowing English. You can –” I just feel like they have the three languages tied — as if they are tied somehow or like American Sign Language is tied very closely to English. They feel like “oh, I can’t learn sign language because I don’t know English,” and like I said, the reality is that they are two different languages you can learn — you can know any language, Spanish –you know– English, Tagalog, anything, and still learn American Sign Language because it is its own language.

SUNG: So right now, I’m just curious. How many languages do you speak?

JOE: Uh, so I speak Spanish and English. I know American Sign Language. I took four years of French, and I took one semester of Italian, um —

SUNG: Wonderful.

JOE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I haven’t been practicing my French too much. So I won’t make you too many promises on that, but definitely the English, Spanish, and sign language.

SUNG: Wonderful. But, like you, I have this love for language as well, and, you know, I speak conversational Korean by now. When I got here, when I was in second grade, my parents unfortunately, really didn’t, you know, promote us, you know, continuously speaking Korean as much as — they wanted us to just become immerse and learn lang — English as quickly as possible. I think that’s one of my only major regrets of not having the complete command of my own native tongue when I grew up as a Korean. But language is fascinating, and, you know, I remember my high school teacher telling me, “The mark of an educated man is the amount of languages that he can speak” —

JOE: Wow.

SUNG: — and I agree with that a lot.
Let’s move on to your teaching. How long have you been teaching now?

JOE: I’m actually about to finish my first year.

SUNG: Oh, really?

JOE: Yes.

SUNG: Congratulations.
JOE: Thank you. Thank you. It’s been a great year. I’ve been in education for a while. I did some private tutoring before I got a job at Burton Street Elementary in Panorama City. I worked there for about five years as a teacher assistant, and that’s kind of when I really found out I wanted to be a teacher, and that was, I think, about a year or two after entering college. I am sorry. What was the — I am sorry.

SUNG: No, no, no. You started teaching, but I was just wondering if, uh — you were telling us about your first year of teaching. I mean, was — do you — I mean, do you remember your first, you know, few days, few weeks of teaching, having your own class as the prime teacher, what that experience was like? Is that still like — engrained in your memories?
JOE: You know what? It’s all fresh, and it all seems so far away at the same time.

SUNG: Do tell.

JOE: It’s just — you know, it was very exciting. It was very exciting that I had set out this goal of becoming a teacher, and I’m finally there in front of the room and the — it was just very eye-opening. I had the experience of being a student; I had the experience of being a teacher assistant; I had the experience of being a student-teacher; I had the experience of private tutoring, but I just feel like nothing can prepare you to being, you know, thrown into your own class and suddenly being responsible for the education of several students, of having to manage adults, of having to keep track of so many dates and — oh man! It was very exciting, but it was very scary all at the same time because I knew that I was — I was the head of the class. Everybody was looking to me for directions.

SUNG: That’s right.

JOE: Um…

SUNG: It’s funny, isn’t it, because first day, I mean, I think all of your senses are either heightened or dulled. Things happen either really fast or too slow, doesn’t it?

JOE: Yeah. No, it really does. You don’t know what to expect and you’re kind of just going with it.

SUNG: Well, Marlton is the only school within the LA unified that provides full days educational curriculum utilizing American Sign Language in the classroom. That’s the case, right?

JOE: Yes. Please look it up. We have a program from preschool to adult school. Um — it’s — the one — the beautiful thing is we give direct instruction in American Sign Language. We don’t rely on interpreters to give the information to our students. We have a nice number of deaf staff members, deaf professionals that serve as wonderful role models for our students. The students have full access to language while they’re there, which is not something that we can say for their home life, unfortunately, because that language barrier between them and their parents does exists —

SUNG: Right.

JOE: — most of the time. But, yeah. It’s a wonderful, wonderful program that really embraces just deaf culture and American Sign Language.

SUNG: So I’d like to ask you what are the unique rewards and, you know, the challenges that are specific to a DHH educator.

JOE: The biggest challenge is definitely the language delay. Like I mentioned to you, several of our students might come at age three or four and that might be the first time they are exposed to language or accessible language, I should say. The language delays obviously make it difficult for learning some of the subject — or all of the subject matters. There are a lot of gaps in their education that we need to — that we need to fill.
Um — the rewards, uh, you know what? We get to — I’ll speak for myself. I get to connect with these students, um, in a very deep way thanks to the fact that I am — I’m able to sign with them. A lot of the times these students, like I said, they don’t have that at home. They can’t get their thoughts out with their parents. They usually have some sort of communication but it’s always very basic so the fact that I have the opportunity to interact with their sons and daughters, um, in that way and just talk about what they want to talk about. It may seem like no big deal, but when you’re so restricted because other people don’t understand your language, just to be that person there to kind of be like “Hey, what do you want to talk about?” And get to relay that to their parents “Hey, guess what your kid told me today.” You know? “Guess what? They felt like sharing. They really like that you did this yesterday at home,” or “He’s really looking forward to your event next weekend.” Just to be able to communicate that to the parents and — it’s — it’s great. It’s great to be that bridge and to also be that person that can encourage them to want to get to know their kids even more so by learning American Sign Language.

SUNG: And, Joe, I was just wondering because the communication with some of the students are severely limited at home due to the fact that some of the parents don’t have a sign language — I mean, just wondering the depth of level of communication you have with your students must be so much more intense than, let’s say, you know, a regular teacher who has a verbal communication — conversation with his or her students. I mean, do you find that the case in terms of deaf conversations?

JOE: Um, just more connection because — just more connection in the sense that they get to get their thoughts out. It’s not so much that they’re not able to speak or — because, again, a lot of our students can’t speak, or it’s not that they can’t speak. They can produce sound, but because they’ve never heard the language, they haven’t mastered spoken English.
So a lot of them, they just depend on what they call home signs. So sometime the parents and the deaf child will come up with signs for everyday household items that they’ll use, but I literally just mean getting their thoughts out because there is no full-fledged common language between the student and their parents, you know, they can’t really talk to their parents about their favorite TV show. The parents they can’t really explain to their kid what’s happening during Thanksgiving. The kid just knows that there’s tons of people coming over with food and there’s family members, but what exactly is happening? There’s nobody there to really explain it to them.

SUNG: Oh, jeez. It’s such an incredibly isolating feeling.

JOE: As you can imagine, and that’s one of the reasons why — a big part of my job is to continue to advocate for American Sign Language. Um, a lot of people now are taking the route of cochlear implants or hearing aids and in, uh, one of the big problems is that people seem to think it has to be one or the other. You either get an — assistive technology to, you know, to help you hear or you learn sign language, and the reality is that you don’t have to choose. That’s the beauty of it. You can do both. You can learn American Sign Language and use that whenever it’s more appropriate or you know, when you feel like using that and you can also see if an assistive devise will help you in talking. But that’s something that I think we forget often or people in the field, the parents of deaf children might forget that you don’t really have to pick one or the other. It can be both.

SUNG: Okay. So another question that came to my mind is, you know, you teach a range of students from 6th to 12th grade and, um, you know, with every class, whether it’s math or language arts, uh, invariably, uh, there’s a student in the class or a group of students who are not as advanced as their peer, and is that the same case in your class where some of the students are, you know, much faster with the sign language and others are still in the nascent stages and still trying to pick up? And so I mean I imagine you have to moderate the pace at which you even deliver your signing to very wide range of skill level audience, right?

JOE: Yes. And that’s where the beauty of small groups comes in and the beauty of just visual tools. So that, for example, as I’m teaching a lesson, I have pictures ready whether it’s opened up on a web page, or it’s on a PowerPoint, again, because they might not — let’s say somebody — we were talking about plants the other day. So let’s say one of my students knows the sign for ivy, one of them knows the word for ivy, and one, what ivy looks like, but they don’t know the sign, and so putting a picture on the board kind of helps make that connection of I-V-Y means ivy, means this picture, means this is the sign for.
My students are really learning two languages at once. They’re picking up their L1, their American Sign Language, and then I’m also trying to expose them to English because the importance of literacy, um, so, yeah. Small groups, absolutely, and a lot of visual support. Like I said, Google images is one of my best friends.

SUNG: Yes, absolutely. And, you know, I know we were talking earlier about how critical it is to, you know, keep the real world connection at the forefront as we’re standing up in front of the class and teaching and providing this vital connection. So is your — teaching your students, why is it very important for you to provide this real world connection to your students?

JOE: Um, you know what? I — I — we talk about being able to generalize information, so learning something and applying it in the real world. So saying, “Oh, I learned to multiply in this math lesson,” and now you’re at the grocery store, you being able to make that connection “Oh, I can use multiplication to figure out how many –” I don’t know, “–how much food to buy, how many pounds of meat to buy for my family,” or something like that, and we just assume that would happen automatically, and I realize more and more for myself even as a student growing older that that’s not true.
Sometimes we need help generalizing the information, and I work with students with special needs. So my students are deaf, but I also work with the smaller population of my school, which is the ones with special needs, and that’s also very important for them, helping them make that connection, that link. We just learned about reading bus schedules, and this recent field trip that we took for — they had a competition. They had relay races. It was a great event. It was called Spring Games. We had to take the bus, and it was just nice to — to, again, just the look on their faces. “Oh! We just saw something like this in the classroom, and here it is in the real world,” and being able to take that copy of the real bus schedule and comparing it to the one that we use in the classroom, the real world experiences, yeah, um, it’s —
Something that also kind of comes to mind is using a video phone. Um, we — I started using a video phone and it’s, uh, it’s basically like a webcam but to make phone calls. It’s the deaf person’s phone. But it’s video chatting. That’s a skill that my students also have to learn. We talk about teachable moments and, uh, yeah.
The other day I wanted to make sure my student told his parents about what a wonderful job he did on an assignment and then I realized what a great opportunity for us to use a video phone, expose his parents to what it’s like to get a phone call from an interpreter. I’m not sure if you’re familiar, but you dial the phone number using a video phone service.

SUNG: Uh-huh.

JOE: An interpreter pops up on the screen.

SUNG: Wow.

JOE: You sign to the interpreter. The interpreter is using a headset, and she will go ahead and speak whatever it is you need to say. She’ll listen, and then she’ll interpret back sign language to you.

SUNG: Oh, this is fantastic. Okay. So if I wanted to communicate with a deaf student, I call a service — what’s the service call?

JOE: There are different services. There’s Purple. There’s VRS. There are several services. Those are two of the bigger ones.

SUNG: Okay.

JOE: Right now with apps, applications, there’s one called Glide. That’s not an interpreting service, but it’s more direct communication, again, using video. But something like VRS or Purple is our interpreting services.

SUNG: Oh. That’s fantastic. So they’ll do the translation from the speaking to the nonspeaking and vice versa.

JOE: Yeah. So you have a phone number you dial. They will ask you for the phone number you’re trying to get a hold of and they will call that person’s video phone. You go ahead and turn on the screen, and you just start talking having a normal conversation. You just have this middleman helping you out.

SUNG: Right. And as you mentioned earlier in the program, the communication is delayed, but nevertheless the communication is being taking place?

JOE: Yes. Delay in communication? You mean?

SUNG: In terms of the pace status.

JOE: Oh. Actually, you know what? It’s actually not as delayed as you might think. Again, the fact that they have the headphones happening and the sign language, it’s actually pretty instant.

SUNG: Okay.

JOE: There might be a little bit of delay as a processing of what signs to use but it’s actually pretty real —

SUNG: So I’d like to ask you, Joe, about the influence of technology and the vital role it has played. So let’s say in your class right now, how much has sign language — how much has instruction changed for DHH students now, let’s say, in compared to 20, 30 years ago due to technology? I mean you mentioned some of the stuff, you know, utilizing Google pictures and whatnot, right?

JOE: Yeah. You know, we have interactive boards and all of our classrooms — in pretty much all of our classrooms, the Smart Boards. They’re great for when we’re doing reading, for example. Um, if everybody has their face in the book or they’re holding the book, then you can’t really sign. So the Smart Board being able to project the book onto, you know, the white board and having that English print simultaneously visible to the students as then American Sign Language, that’s really nice. The Smart Boards are a great — again, just being able to project English print onto the board.
Um, technology is also great for filming our students work. So, when we speak — for language development in particular — when we speak, we listen to ourselves talking, and that helps us kind of self-correct as we’re going or we know if we said something wrong or — we’re kind of getting this continuous feedback as we’re talking. For a deaf student, they might not be fully aware of the signs that they are using because they don’t have that immediate feedback that we do while we’re talking.
So something like using, you know, video recording, having them film themselves do a presentation or even just during a group discussion, and then having them watch themselves and say “Oh, my goodness. I said that wrong.” Or “That’s not how you sign it “or “That looks funny,” I mean that’s — that’s one of the wonderful things, I think, that technology has done for me and my classroom to give students the opportunity to self-assess their language skills.

SUNG: Sure.

JOE: It’s pretty incredible.

SUNG: Wow. That sounds fantastic. You know, Joe, you mentioned earlier about the lives of your students when they go back home and obviously family support is so important to countinuos — to, you know, provide a sense of self-esteem within your students, and I’d like to ask you about Marlton’s program offering American Sign Language course to the family members. Can you share with us, you know, what that’s like, your educational program for family members?

JOE: Yeah. I believe, uh, I believe they host signing classes for the families. I’m not sure if it’s once or twice a week. Right now we’re actually signing a petition online to keep that position open because it seems like it’s going to come to a complete halt. There’s going to be nowhere really to transfer. They’re just stopping the program so maybe later we can go ahead and do that little plug-in for the — for the petition sign up, but it’s this — we have a teacher. His name’s Bob Hiltermann. He’s deaf himself. He comes, and he teaches our deaf — our parents of deaf students. Siblings are welcome to attend as well.
Um — yeah, it’s, again, it’s — it’s – it’s important for us to not only tell parents, you know, uh, the importance of sign language, communicate the importance of sign language to them, but it’s one of those, “Okay. We have the information. Now what?” So to be able to tell them, “Okay, well, here’s this place where you can come and learn.” Again, it’s about accessibility, making it easy for the parents. They’re already dealing with so much in their lives. Again, particularly at our school where we have a lot of immigrant parents, low income. They already have so many struggles so to be able to make it easy for them and say, “You know, sign language is really important. We have a class that’s offered here once a week at this time,” I think — I think that that’s one of the big important parts.
Give people solutions. Don’t just give them information. Provide them with something.

SUNG: Joe, I’d like to actually talk to you about bullying involving DHH students. What lessons do you provide for dealing with some prejudice they may face or have already faced? Uh, you mentioned that being deaf is not same as being disabled, and it just simply means you’re part of a linguistic minority. How do you handle situations with bullying?

JOE: Uh, again, for my students, it’s about being very honest with them and helping them understand the other perspective. Um, this is an — at our school, again, because we are — there are deaf and hard of hearing students everywhere, you don’t see students being bullied because they are deaf because they are all same there. But in terms of going in the outside world, we try to give them resources on how to deal with — for example, how to self-advocate, how to stand up for yourself, how to make your needs known so that accessibility is there for you.
Um, we had a really wonderful experience. I — my students with special needs mixed with one of the general education classes, and there was a communication barrier between them, as well, for different reasons. For example, one of my students has cerebral palsy which makes it difficult for him to produce some of the signs, which might make it difficult for other people to understand him.

SUNG: Sure.

JOE: But once that interaction was over, I talked to the students that were in the general education class and we talked about how they dealt with some of the challenges communicating with some of my students with special needs, and we compared that to what it’s, like, for hearing people to come in contact with them as deaf students or as deaf people and having that communication barrier.
Um, so, I think, again, it comes down to the education and helping our students understand the different perspectives and taking something like a bullying oppor — like a bullying — if they ever experience being bullying as an opportunity to have a conversation about, you know, about the unknown, for example.

SUNG: Uh-huh.

JOE: If it’s a hearing student bullying a deaf student, it’s having the conversation of why that’s happening, the differences, what is the unknown, and why are you scared of it, and finding commonalities between them.

SUNG: So, Joe, I was wondering for classes that have inclusion, and I was wondering do you have any advice for the regular Ed teachers that is accepting a deaf student into his or her class with an interpreter, obviously. What advice would you give the regular Ed teachers in the best course to acclimate the child with the rest of the class population?

JOE: Um, I would suggest — find out — I mean, learn as much as possible about de — about deaf culture, you know. Spend some time with some deaf adults. There’s nothing better than to get a firsthand — I know that a lot of what I learned is because I came in contact with a lot of deaf individuals who were just very open — who were just very open in sharing about their lives and their struggles as deaf people and, um, yeah. I would say get to know — get to know the deaf culture. Learn sign language, if possible, even if it’s some simple phrases or some emergency phrases.
Um, take into consideration the deaf student’s deaf culture, and if they’re not familiar with it, then introduce it — introduce it to them. It’s so important as part of their identity development for them to understand they — they are deaf. I don’t think it’s this idea “Oh, everybody’s the same.” Or “Let’s try to make everybody feel the same.” I think, again, it’s about really spotlighting those differences and just embracing them and appreciating them. And, again, teach your deaf student about deaf culture if they don’t know. Introduce them to deaf role models they can look up to.
Connect the parents. Don’t forget about their parents too. Their parents are probably struggling to find information. There are some great organizations out there. One of them is called deaf — deaf parents — I’ll get you that information —

SUNG: Yeah.

JOE: — a little later, but there is a — at Cal State Northridge, there’s an org that was established to help deaf parents come together and just parent to parent support really, um, and empowering the families. Yeah. It’s a whole family experience and just, yeah — I’m thinking of a lot, and I’m rambling.

SUNG: No, that’s okay.
Joe, I wanted to let you know, when I was in middle school, I remember this in 6th grade I never come across deaf culture at all, and I remember a group of students just using sign language and two of my friends, you know, they actually had a class of American Sign Language at my middle school, and I didn’t actually take it, but just being good friends, I was really curious, and they had a book. So I spent actually some time, first of all, picking up the alphabet, right?

JOE: Yeah.

SUNG: And signing a few of the words, learning how to sign. I just found it fascinating, and I didn’t really continue on with it. But I always thought how cool it would be to be sitting in the back of the class and signing to your buddy.

JOE: Yeah.

SUNG: Or be at a distance, you know, not shouting stuff through the quad but just sign a couple things from the distance, and I always thought that had to be really cool.

JOE: I’m telling you, Sung. That’s how it all starts.

SUNG: Right.

JOE: It starts with a little interest in the language and then you just get to meet this whole world that’s out there.

SUNG: Absolutely.

JOE: And you just don’t know it because the language barrier, but I highly encourage you and anybody out there to learn sign language. It’s beautiful and just think of all the people you haven’t met because you don’t know American Sign Language or sign language period.

SUNG: That’s right.

JOE: I really like your model of you saying we all have something to learn from each other, you know, no matter what our background or experiences are. So I would say — I would say there’s a whole lot of deaf people waiting to tell you about their experiences too. It’s just a matter of having that language.

SUNG: That’s right, and I’d like to kind of talk further on what you just said about that in terms of every time I travel abroad, and I’m sitting there in a train and just intuitively, you know, that person’s really interesting and you just realize you can’t really communication. Just a simple “hello” and “thank you.” And I always think — gosh. It’s severely limiting our ability to communicate and befriend even more people because of the limitation of language, and just like you said, language is beautiful, and it just opens up a whole new — just color of the world by the more languages you know, the better off you are, right?

JOE: Absolutely.

SUNG: So —

JOE: And the better you understand your own language too.

SUNG: Absolutely. Joe, at the end of the day, what are you most proud of.

JOE: Man. What am I proud of? What am I proud of? I’m proud of a lot. I’m proud of a lot. It’s been an amazing year. I’m proud of everything I’ve been able to accomplish. My first year teaching, it’s — it’s scary. You don’t get guided through everything. I mean just — just taking on teaching and facing the challenges that come every day whether, again, it’s because of language barriers or just whatever challenges may come your way. I’m just very happy that I was able to navigate them. Like I said, it’s been a crazy year.

SUNG: Sure.

JOE: I’m very proud of all of the educators out there. I know we just had Teacher Appreciation Week. I’m just proud to be part of the family of educators, to be part of this group of people that have taken upon them to educate and kind of pass on what we know to the generations to come. I’m very proud of that, and I think everybody who’s part of this, everybody who’s a teacher, everybody who’s an educator should be pretty proud of themselves too because it’s not easy.

SUNG: Well said. And, Joe, before we leave, I was wondering if you can share with the audience your contact information. Can you provide us with an e-mail if an audience member has a question or would like to contact you?

JOE: Absolutely. Any opportunities for collaboration, anything.

SUNG: Sure.

JOE: So it’s, so Rivera, Joe, R, and you can also check out Marlton School at Please feel free to send me any questions or, again, if you have any opportunities for collaboration, I’d be happy to connect with other people.

SUNG: And I’ll go ahead and post Joe’s information, his e-mail, on my website And finally, Joe, I would like to just thank you for taking the time to come out to the show and congratulations on your almost first year — completed year, and also, Joe is mentioning that he just finished his master’s degree so big, big congratulations to you.

JOE: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. I couldn’t have done it with the help of — I couldn’t have done it without the help of some of my teachers —

SUNG: Still learning.

JOE: — some of my professors. Absolutely.

SUNG: Joe, it’s been a lot of fun. I wish you a lot of luck, and I think your school and your students and the parents are so fortunate to have such a dedicated and passionate teacher like yourself.

JOE: I’m lucky to have them. Thank you so much.

SUNG: All right, Joe. Enjoy the rest of the year, all right.

JOE: Thank you, Sung. Appreciate it.

SUNG: And there goes the bell once again, ending the class session.
Thank you once again for joining us on Inspiring Educators. Continue to inspire and carpe diem.


A special thanks goes out to Ms. Jennifer Ordonez for volunteering her time transcribing the interview.

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