Signing to success

Deaf SHS teacher shares her unique experience


Ryder Harris

Natalie Hendrix-Evans demonstrates the sign for the color purple to the ASL Club. The club meets after school every Thursday.

Although believed to have been born deaf, Natalie Hendrix-Evans always had one goal in mind: becoming a teacher.
“I always wanted to teach,” Hendrix-Evans said through the interpretation of her husband. “Ever since I was a little kid.”
Hendrix-Evans has had a unique journey of becoming a deaf teacher, but it does not hinder her teaching abilities.
During the early years of her college, she had interpreters for all of her courses. However, she had to learn how to self-advocate for her needs, which was difficult at first.
After graduating from the University of Indianapolis in 2005, she struggled to find an open teaching spot to fill because no one wanted to hire her.
“With myself being deaf, it was a challenge because of the way I found a job,” Hendrix-Evans said. “For example, if I went ahead and told the school I was deaf they might just not give me an interview (or) not even consider my application, so I encountered some roadblocks.”
She resorted to working jobs at stores until going back to college at Vincennes University and grad school at the University of Colorado. At these new schools, Hendrix-Evans found more progressive environments through programs, courses and comfortable communication.

Coming out of college for the second time, she saw that SHS had an ASL teaching position open. She wanted to try it out and started working here on an emergency license, a license that allows someone who has a bachelor’s degree, but has not completed a teacher education course, to teach.
At SHS, she does not let being deaf prevent her from making connections with students, and her classroom offers various forms of communication, whether it be signing, writing or talking. Most students are still learning the basics and understanding the structure of ASL, but using just what they have learned helps them continue to build their student-teacher relationships.
Junior Eugene Airhiagbonkpa, who has Hendrix-Evans as his ASL II teacher, enjoys the class as it is a practical course for him. He also admires her composed personality.
“I have a very good relationship with Mrs. Hendrix-Evans,” Airhiagbonkpa said. “She is very kind and understanding.”
She enjoys seeing kids, both hearing and not, who are motivated, curious and interested in ASL. They go beyond the lesson, ask questions and want to learn more, and it is very uplifting for her.
Though there have been many positive teaching experiences in her career, Hendrix-Evans has also encountered negative circumstances being deaf and a teacher. “Often I had classes who would be chatty,” Hendrix-Evans said. “And I didn’t know what they were saying.”

Now, with the assistance of an interpreter, her husband Zachary Evans, and a teaching aid, classroom environments are easier to handle.
She met her husband, who was inspired by her to become an ASL interpreter, in college, and he has observed her growth as a teacher.
He has watched her build good relationships with hearing students and greatly assist both deaf and hard of hearing students.
“Most (SHS deaf or hard of hearing students) have never had a deaf adult around them in their life who they can look up to or who is successful,” Hendrix-Evans said. “I view myself as a big role model for them.”
All students can take her ASL classes for 3 years, and they provide open-minded atmospheres for everyone. Deaf or hard of hearing students can use signs, cochlear implants or FM systems, and hearing students are presented with a new learning experience.
“That helps them if they want to look at the interpreter and communicate in another way,” Evans said. “It gives them another tool.”
Since Hendrix-Evans started her job as the SHS ASL teacher, she has further progressed in communication and patience.
A passion for teaching and her students drive her to keep being a teacher. She hopes that alumni continue to bring kindness into the world and create a more inclusive environment.
“She has grown in her relationships with students…,” Evans said. “She’s very patient, and she’ll work with the kids to make sure the point gets across.”