Teacher for deaf on Millionaire show

Originally appeared in Silent News, March 2001.

Nancy Edwards was lucky enough to get to the “hot seat” on the hugely popular Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? game show. She was even luckier when the $32,000 question was about Thomas Gallaudet, because Edwards is a teacher for the deaf at Thomas Edison Elementary in Michigan.

“I had been trying to get on [the show] for over a year by calling the toll-free number and answering three questions. I did this correctly many, many times, but never got a call back,” Edwards said. Last October, the game show held auditions, including one in Detroit. Edwards decided to try out, and was required to take a 30-question test that had to be completed within twelve minutes.

After the test, contestants were interviewed in groups, and Edwards got a call on Dec. 12 notifying her of her selection. “They gave me a tape date of Jan. 29th. It was a long, long wait, from start to finish.” Edwards said.

Edwards, who brought her sister-in-law Stephanie with her, had expenses paid for by the game show to New York, along with spending money and accommodations.

Even if contestants manage to make it to the game show, their actual playing is not guaranteed. To get to the “hot seat” facing game show host Regis Philbin, contestants must first win the Fastest Finger portion, where a question is given and the winner must answer correctly in the quickest time possible.

“I never thought I would be fast enough to get into the hot seat,” Edwards said. “So I was thrilled when Regis called out my name after the second fastest finger question.”

One of Edwards’ lifelines was at her school, with Becky Kohanov, a fourth-grade teacher, answering the phone.

“I knew that at that very moment, a producer was calling to let [Becky] know that I was in the hot seat, and my principal would be announcing it over the PA. About one-thirds of my brain was focused on what must be happening at my school, one-thirds worried about the way Regis was signing, and one-thirds actually thought about the questions… Knowing that one little mistake can end it all is a little scary,” Edwards remembered.

The show was taped during the day, so the principal of Edison arranged for PTA parents to cover classrooms for teachers and students wanting to help with the lifeline question, which was a geographical question.

“Becky repeated the question for [students and teachers]. Immediately, they pulled down a large wall-map of the United States. Nancy Kreusel, a fifth-grade teacher, found the Grand Coulee dam with six seconds to spare. They were so excited when they got it right, they screamed, jumped up and down and hugged each other,” Edwards said, having seen a videotape of the event.

Then came the $32,000 question: “In 1817 Thomas Gallaudet founded the first public school in the United States for what group?” Edwards was given four choices: farmers, Quakers, immigrants, or deaf children. She, of course, answered correctly.

Edwards got her start in deaf education at Central Michigan University, earning her undergraduate degree in speech therapy and elementary education. She first met deaf children when working in a summer speech clinic, and started learning sign language. Edwards said, “I loved it. I continued on to get my master’s degree in deaf education. Upon graduating, I was offered a job in my hometown of Port Huron, and I have been here ever since.”

The school has two classrooms of deaf and hard of hearing children, totaling ten children. “I have been teaching there for most of my 25 years in education, first as a preschool teacher and now as an upper elementary teacher.”

When asked what she would do with her $32,000, Edwards said, “My husband and I have two sons, Allan and Stephen. Allan is 19 and a freshman at our local community college. Steve is 15 and a freshman in high school. With two children that age, it’s probably obvious that the $32,000 will go to pay college tuition.” She also plans to use a little of it for a vacation with her husband to Mackinac Island.

“My students were thrilled that I was going to be on the show. They often watch it and tell me the next day what answers they knew. After they saw my show, they came in laughing and shaking their heads about how Regis signed ‘final answer’ and ‘win’,” Edwards said.

“They were happy and excited that I won, but I’m still the same old Mrs. Edwards to them.”

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