Teacher’s language is of love

Beilue: Teacher’s language is of love

June 7, 2014


The first boy in JoDeane Boyett’s first class in Amarillo was 4 years old at the time. He was from Tulia, and in the beginning, he was bussed to her class daily during the school year. As he got older, he stayed in Amarillo during the week, going home on weekends.

Today, Arturo Montoya is nearly 35 and works at Affiliated Foods. He and his wife have four girls, and Boyett teaches them in church.

It should be said that Montoya has been deaf since birth. And for nearly 30 years, Boyett, until her retirement last week, had been a preschool deaf education teacher through Region 16.

“Just to see him with his kids is very rewarding to me,” she said, “because not all turn out that well.”

For nearly three decades, if deaf children were born and raised in the 26 counties of the Texas Panhandle, Boyett was very likely the first person to teach them sign language and their first communication skills.

Think about that. For essentially 30 years, all deaf children in the Texas Panhandle had Boyett as the first one to teach them to communicate. More so than parents, who didn’t have the learned skills to do that, it was Boyett. That’s quite a legacy.

“She cared about those kids,” said Kathy Bates, a teaching assistant with Boyett for 29 years. “She was kind, gentle, whatever it took to teach those kids how to communicate their wants and needs.”

Since she was in the fourth grade in California, Boyett knew what she wanted as her life’s work. She saw a deaf choir that performed at her church, and they used sign language.

“Everybody was so intrigued by that, and I was, too,” she said. “I knew at that point that I wanted to work with the deaf and never wavered from that. I wasn’t sure what it would look like, but as I got older it brought me into education. It’s always been my passion. It’s the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do.”

Her family moved to Lubbock her senior year, and in a fortunate twist, she saw a story in the Lubbock
Avalanche-Journal that Texas Tech would begin a degree program the next year in deaf education in 1967.

Boyett was in the first class to graduate from Tech with a degree in deaf education.

Since the 1984-85 school year, her first year in Amarillo, Boyett taught 3- and 4-year-olds and occasionally 2-year-olds in the afternoon. She and Bates had as many as 15 children for three hours a day.

“A child comes in and wants to tell you something, but can’t,” Boyett said, “and so you try to take that little child and develop some language with them, and they realize a sign has meaning and start to use that to communicate with parents.

“They begin to sign ‘mom’ and ‘daddy’ and then can share something that happened at home. That takes a year of pouring and pouring language and signing into them before they are able to do that.”

How do you teach a young child that can not hear, and therefore cannot speak?

“It’s like a newborn baby when you start talking to them,” she said. “At first you don’t know what they’re saying, but you keep talking with them and working with them every day, basically the same things over and over, and pretty soon it starts to click.”

Deaf education is a high reward and high frustration profession. There are victories, similar to those Anne Sullivan famously taught deaf and blind Helen Keller. There are frustrations, when progress is slow or when there doesn’t seem to be parental support at home.

If I had been a parent of a deaf child, it would seem that learning sign language would be a given, an act of love even, but that doesn’t always happen.

“There’s a frustration when parents don’t communicate,” Boyett said. “But I can look at some children and know they’re just not going to make it. There’s just not much I can do about it. I can see it and know it’s going to happen because of home life.”

In that regard, it’s no different than mainstream teaching.

Retiring teachers deserve sustained applause. But for one who spent nearly half her life teaching deaf children across the Panhandle the first steps of communication, JoDeane Boyett deserves her own halo.

Jon Mark Beilue is an AGN Media columnist. He can be reached at [email protected] or 806-345-3318. His blog and “Out of the Beilue” feature are on amarillo.com. Twitter: @jonmarkbeilue.



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