Hearing aids help St. Paul teacher regain communication with students

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Mask-wearing has impacted all of our daily lives, but for one high school teacher, it almost prevented her from being able to communicate with students.

Teaching for nearly 20 years, Rachel White was ready to be done saying her hearing loss was making it too difficult to understand students behind their masks.

“It really made my hearing loss a lot more evident,” she said. “I was just fine before the pandemic — I could read lips pretty well — and now it’s like I’m constantly asking students, ‘Can you say it again, can you say it again?'” White described.

White says her hearing has gotten worse as she has gotten older.

“I grew up in a loud house. My father had hearing loss as well,” she said.

She shared her concern on social media, writing she “will probably change careers” due to the difficulty with her hearing.

Her post caught the attention of Eden Prairie-based Starkey, one of the largest hearing aid manufacturers in the world. The company is now fitting her for hearing aids.

“She’ll be walking out here with hearing aids that you don’t see. They’re sleek design, great-sounding hearing aids, and will be able to monitor her environment also with a mask mode in our new technology,” said Brandon Sawalich, president and CEO of Starkey.

After a full day of cleaning, testing, molding and fitting, White will be back teaching Wednesday with hearing aids so small her students won’t even see them.

“I can’t even express how excited I am,” White said. “I’m going to be able to hear everyone. When they speak, I’ll know what they’re saying.”

“It’s seeing that person smile, what we call a hearing smile. You can see it in their eyes when they are reconnected, that’s the fun part of the job,” Sawalich added.

White calls it a gift that will keep her in the classroom for good.

“I told my students what I was doing and I said, ‘Next week when you see me, I’m going to be able to hear you,’ and some of my students — the smiles — they were so happy for me, which was really great,” White shared.