New teaching career for mum of three Deaf children

21 December 2021

Inspired by the experience of helping her own children learn to read and write, Elizabeth Kay has qualified as a teacher so she can help other Deaf students learn and feel pride in their identity.

  • Elizabeth Kay grad story

    Christchurch mum of three Deaf children Elizabeth Kay has graduated with a Bachelor of Teaching and Learning (Primary) from the University of Canterbury.


For the last three years she has studied as a mature student towards a Bachelor of Teaching and Learning (Primary) at the University of Canterbury.

While a student, she continued working as a freelance New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreter, her job for the past 17 years.

She can hear well, but both of her parents are Deaf and she grew up using sign language at home. “New Zealand Sign Language has always been a part of my life and I feel comfortable and at home communicating with Deaf people, more so than using English,” Elizabeth says.

Her husband Barry and all three of their children are profoundly Deaf, although the children wear cochlear implants. After the experience of teaching them at home, she decided to train as a primary teacher so she could use her skills and background to contribute to the lives of other Deaf students.

After graduating she hopes to work in Deaf Education to help boost the number of teachers fluent in NZSL.

“I hope to provide Deaf ākonga (students) with the opportunity to develop language, both NZSL and English to benefit their own future. So that they can grow up and decide how to communicate in the different settings they find themselves in, to provide them with an understanding of identity, and a sense of pride in being Deaf and the beauty they bring to our world.”

She says she has loved being an NZSL interpreter because of the variety and flexibility. The role can involve interpreting for Deaf children who are learning to swim or being in a court room interpreting for a lawyer and judge.

“As much as I love my interpreting role, an interpreter is impartial and cannot contribute their thoughts or opinions – the role involves passing on a message accurately and with the intent the sender shares. I want to be able to share my experiences and thoughts about Deaf children and how they learn, so this is another reason I decided to study.”

A highlight of her degree was undertaking a research investigation on effective strategies for teaching Deaf children how to read.

“I have witnessed Deaf ākonga who struggle to attain understanding and a strong foundation of literacy. Through my study I found a range of effective strategies to support literacy development in Deaf children who use NZSL.”

Elizabeth enjoyed her placement earlier this year at Ko Taku Reo (formerly Van Asch) Deaf Education School.

“I requested this placement because of my language skills in NZSL and my passion to teach Deaf children. The ākonga were using my home language and this created an environment which was comfortable and fun to be in. Alongside the learning was a great opportunity to meet some like-minded friends who formed a support network while I was studying via distance.”

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