Sign of the times

ASL teacher prepared to teach hearing students


Hannah Backus

American Sign Language teacher Sarah Martindale signs to students during her first period class. Martindale began teaching at Canyon High School after spending five years teaching in Miami, Texas.

Lesson plans cover the whiteboards, presentations filled with new vocabulary light up the smartboard and students eagerly move about the room, ready to sign and learn a new language. Although Deaf, ASL teacher Sarah Martindale plunged into the world of hearing students, excited to teach them American Sign Language.

At 4 years old, Martindale developed spinal meningitis, resulting in a loss of hearing. Her parents placed her in a school specialized in speech therapy and lip-reading. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Deaf education from Texas Christian University, where she first learned to sign, Martindale started teaching at Fannin Middle School in Amarillo. Martindale taught Deaf students basic English, math, science and history.

“When I started college, I didn’t major in Deaf education,” Martindale said. “I majored in mathematics and accounting, then I got bored and thought, ‘This isn’t me.’ I can’t sit in an office all day and work with numbers, so I changed my major to Deaf Education.”

I want to be able to influence more students.

— Sarah Martindale, ASL teacher

Martindale later earned her masters degree in school counseling and counseled Deaf students at Caprock High School. In 2001, Martindale resigned from her job, moved to Pampa and became a stay-at-home mom. Fourteen years later, Martindale restarted her teaching career in Miami, Texas and began teaching at Canyon High five years after that.

“I’m at a place in my life where my husband and I can move, and I wanted the challenge of a bigger school,” Martindale said. “I want to be able to influence more students. I love Miami, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted more; I wanted bigger.”

Martindale said she faces several challenges teaching at a school designed for hearing students and teachers. In addition to a recently installed light that flashes when the bells ring, Martindale has also asked students to help her with tasks around her room.

“Since this is a bigger school, they’ll call the rooms a lot, so for my classroom management I have a student who answers the phone,” Martindale said. “I also have a person on the other side of the room that–if someone knocks–they check to make sure it’s safe and then answer the door.”

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Martindale said her favorite part about teaching is the students signing back to her. 

“Since I teach ASL I, the students come to me knowing nothing,” Martindale said. “Now, being eight weeks since school started, I have students asking me if they can go to the bathroom, notifying me if the phone rings, if someone’s at the door or they ask if they can go to football early.”

Martindale said she hopes her students have fun while learning how to effectively use ASL.

“Students should want to learn ASL because it’s different,” Martindale said. “It’s fun, and you get to interact with other kids. More people are becoming Deaf, or they lose their hearing when they’re older, and you want to be able to sign with them.”