The staff at Lisbon High School has grown this year, not only in numbers, but also in talent. A big part of this growth comes with the addition of Mrs. Gail Carlson, the school’s first-ever American Sign Language (ASL) instructor. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mrs. Carlson, whose deafness makes her both unique, as well as exceptionally passionate for her subject. When asked if it was difficult to pave the way for a sign language class at Lisbon High School, Mrs. Carlson answered simply that she “loves a good challenge.

After graduating from art school and studying the subject she originally hoped to teach, Mrs. Carlson worked many jobs. Four years ago she moved to Wilton with her second husband. She has taught various sign language courses at Central Maine Community School, but as of this semester will only be teaching at the high school. She travels 100 miles a day to teach noting “it’s not about the money.” She adds, “I love doing this.” In the classroom, Mrs. Carlson struggles with the obvious, communication issues. Due to her disability, it is important for her to set structure, and difficult for her to discipline. She conducts activities that are fun and hands-on for her students. In the future Mrs. Carlson hopes to get “signing pals” from other schools offering ASL to correspond with students in second year classes. She is also working to bring in members from the deaf community, an act which she hopes, will help bring the two diverse communities together, to gain a better understanding of one another.

When responding to her thoughts concerning the importance of learning sign language (or any foreign language), Mrs. Carlson remembers a time that truly proves you’ll never know when a different form of communication will be a necessity. She recalls an adventure that would allow her to swim with dolphins, but feared that she would not have a translator to guide her through the process. Thankfully, one of the employees had learned sign language in high school and Mrs. Carlson was able to experience something great. She says she teaches visual perception, something that is very important both now and years later when you might be helping a complete stranger.

Among the obvious challenges, Mrs. Carlson has faced a series of complications throughout her life. When she was a child, three different doctors told her family she was mentally retarded. They knew better. She credits her family as being the source of her support, and her four brothers and two sisters for teaching her how to speak. She says it was her family who was always supporting her, encouraging her to face life’s many challenges. She has certainly done just that. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my family,” she says.

Lisbon High School has gained a true asset with the addition of the ASL program and Mrs. Carlson. Mrs. Carlson’s personal motto goes like this: “I always wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t do it because of my deafness, but now I am a teacher because of my deafness.” In these words, one can find inspiration, to open the door to others and to face those challenges with which life presents oneself.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.