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Inquiring Teachers Want To Know
the end of the academic year, we reflect upon questions and comments educational sign language interpreters receive from
hearing teachers. We thought we
would share some – by no means all – of them, along with some – by no
means all – of our thoughts.
items are in no particular order, but are numbered for ease of reference.
Used here, the acronym DHH means deaf
or hard of hearing; DHH student
means a student enrolled in a school district’s program designed for students
who are deaf or hard of hearing or who learn best when using or incorporating
sign language or for whom sign language interpreting is otherwise provided as an
completely understand your question (we get this one a lot).
way is to compare a DHH student’s academic performance (grades, participation,
etc.) with that of other students in the same class.
Another is to direct questions about the material to the DHH students.
Additionally, ask your educational interpreter if s/he is confident that
each student is receiving the material, and why or why not.
LANGUAGE NOTE: In English, a concept can be expressed using a variety of word choices (shut the door; see that door? please shut it; do you mind shutting that? [points to door]; go ahead and close the door for me). Sometimes word-choice specificity is critical; sometimes not. Signing is sort of like that. Different interpreters make different sign choices based on a number of factors, many of which are discussed throughout www.terptopics.com.
Also, interpreting is not the same as translating.
a glossary that we hope helps a little.
Once day last week, students were rewarded with about 90-minutes of pizza
and a captioned movie. I told the
interpreter s/he could go ahead and leave since we weren’t really doing
anything important. But, s/he said s/he couldn’t leave. Why not?
The interpreter is assigned to facilitate communication and provide dynamically equivalent access to information. It is his/her job to be available for the duration of the assignment and to provide services as needed (or, in the case of the upper grades: as requested).
Even if there
seems to be no immediate call for interpretation, in the event of an unanticipated
situation, we think you would be glad to have him/her at hand.
Why does the interpreter feel it necessary to interpret everything?
Students make inappropriate remarks, or I might say something under my
breath … s/he even interprets bodily functions, for crying out loud.
is it important that there’s a helicopter outside, or an argument in
the hallway? I’ve told him/her not
to interpret those things, but s/he does it anyway.
Come on …
you and the interpreter whisper privately in such a way that students cannot
understand your conversation, the interpreter will not sign the conversation
(likewise, if you and another student or adult speak privately).
Deaf students are not let out of the loop (isolated) when the rest of the class knows there’s a helicopter outside, or when students in the front row heard what you said under your breath.
Interpreters facilitate dynamic equivalence to the best of their ability.
We hope it is helpful to browse the RID
Code of Professional Conduct, which informs the behavior of
Rather than using the extra time required for an interpreted
communication when I’m already stressed out, it’s just easier for me to
explain and give assignments to the interpreter, then have him/her tell the DHH
student what I said. But, the
interpreter insists that I go through the whole process so s/he can interpret
what I say. It’s frustrating, and
I don’t know why s/he won’t cooperate.
teachers are pretty much expected to speak directly with students (hearing, DHH,
or otherwise). We know that an
interpreted conversation may require a couple of extra moments.
Hearing students frequently require extra time, too; yet, teachers
continue to communicate with them.
services are available for that student because it is the accommodation of
choice to best support his/her education. Interpreters
join teachers in support of I.D.E.A. and providing the accommodations designated
on a student’s IEP.
At my middle school, sometimes I ask a DHH student to stay after class
for a minute or two, but the interpreter is unable to stay longer than a few
seconds because s/he has to dash to the next class.
How can I speak privately with a DHH student when the interpreter always
has to leave?
This happens often. Sometimes, daily!
for an interpreter to be available before or after school.
You might also problem-solve with the interpreter in question, or ask for
ideas from your school’s interpreter liaison (if your school has one), other
teachers, deaf education specialist, ESE coordinator, or other support
When I present material that wouldn’t ordinarily elicit smiles, I
notice that sometimes the interpreter and DHH student exchange grins.
What’s that about?
Oh, gosh, let us count the ways [sic]! "Well, that depends ... " is an expression frequently uttered by interpreters, mentors, and second-language educators.
Some of the difference in facial expression or in expression of emotion can be accounted for by culture. What may be unusual or inappropriate to find odd, quirky, even amusing in the hearing world, may be appropriately so in the Deaf world.
NOTE: Facial expression used during English discourse is linguistically
different from that which is American Sign Language (ASL). In fact, facial and bodily expression between these two languages can be
dramatically different. Naturally,
such language differences are subject to misunderstanding. Feel free to ask your classroom interpreter for information about how
mouth and facial expression in English and ASL differ. And, while you’re at it, ask if s/he can recall what the grin was
LANGUAGE NOTE: Role play (assuming the character of one of the parties
mentioned) is linguistically characteristic of ASL. A teacher may be
speaking of a despicable deed done by an evil-doer, and a signer might include
an evil or crazed grin when conveying the character and actions of the doer or
interpreter error can elicit a grin (kids especially love it when the
interpreter makes a boo-boo); so can a student misunderstanding followed
by the interpreter’s clarification.
Often, the interpreter continues signing for several seconds (feels like
forever!) after I’ve finished speaking - every once in a while, the
interpreter signs for 8-
or 10-seconds after I’m done.
the distractibility factor of continued signing ratchets down quickly.
After a week or so you won’t even notice.
We refer to what you've described as "lag-time." It happens because an interpreter cannot say what you've said until after you've said it, so his/her hands will not stop moving until after you have already stopped speaking.
Additionally, the interpretation may have required expansion on one or more concepts, which requires an extra few moments and may tend to stretch things out a bit, showing up as lag-time at the end.
This is especially noticeable when interpreted discourse is brief. Lengthy discourse can offer the interpreter an opportunity to tighten-up a little on the lag-time, like when the teacher pauses a moment to think before continuing to speak. But, don't worry; an informed and skilled interpreter will know if your pause is for dramatic effect, and the interpretation will support your goal.
Isn’t an educational interpreter the same as a classroom aide?
S/He’ll manage the classroom while I step out for a few minutes, make
copies for me, grade papers, create classroom graphics, organize my storage
closet, or run quick classroom-related errands, right?
Not really, no. Align your expectations with those of teachers and you’ll be closer to the mark. There are some interpreters and some teachers who would not at all mind doing the occasional favor.
Alas, duty time is duty time ... so, if you would not ask a teacher to abandon his/her duty to do you a favor, then you probably would not ask it of an interpreter.
Occasionally, my classroom management may not be what I’d like it to
be. If my students misbehave, or if
I come up short on discipline, will the interpreter inform school
administration, or perhaps gossip about my moment of weakness?
no! Interpreters would be booted out
of every school if we routinely tattled or gossiped about every little thing.
Interpreters are there to interpret, so we aim to keep to that.
We’re terps, not tattles. (smile)
Items 10, 11, and 12 (below) also touch on the issue of classroom behaviors.
I admit it! I’m human.
I may occasionally misstate a fact or misspeak in some other way.
How does the interpreter handle that?
interpreter signs what you say. If
you say, “Seven plus three is twelve,” that’s what comes off the hands of
the interpreter. If you say, “A
Freudian slip is when you mean
one thing, but you say your mother,” all students, hearing and deaf, will
know it (and likely giggle).
exception to the practice of “saying
what the teacher says” might be if doing so could endanger a student.
For example, if threatening sounds are coming from a door to the right
and you mean to direct students toward a door to the left but say “right,”
the interpreter would very likely do his/her best to support the safety of all
concerned and to heck with "the practice of."
If a teacher endangers a student, or otherwise breaks a local, state, or
federal law, how will the interpreter handle that?
Interpreter ethics do not supersede safety or the law, statute, or ordinance. Where law-breaking is concerned, consumers are not protected by an interpreter’s oath of confidentiality.
interpreter is presumed to be a responsible staff member and adult, and can be
expected to act accordingly.
Who is responsible for managing the behavior of a DHH student, the
classroom teacher or the interpreter (who is sitting right there in front of the
Generally, classroom management is a teacher’s responsibility.
Interpreters manage their one-on-one relationship with each DHH student, including how the student behaves toward, addresses, and interacts with the interpreter. However, managing general classroom behavior of students - including that of DHH students - is the responsibility of the classroom teacher.
While I am presenting the lesson, why does the educational interpreter
sometimes follow me around the classroom and sometimes not?
It’s all about line-of-sight.
Interpreters attempt to position themselves where the DHH student most needs to look. If the teacher is speaking about a map on the wall and directs student attention to it, while strolling about the room as s/he presents the material, the interpreter will be where the student is looking (at the map, not following the teacher about).
When should I expect the educational interpreter to use his/her voice?
Are they quiet all the time? Sometimes,
I forget they’re there and then they speak and it
We both laugh.
know what you mean; we have had the same thing happen.
interpreter will speak when interpreting the signed communication of the DHH
interpreter may occasionally ask you to repeat a word or phrase.
For example, s/he might say something like, “I’m sorry, Mr. Jones,
would you please repeat that last sentence?” or “Mr. Jones, you said the
plantation owners “did” or “didn’t” want the tariff repealed?”
It is nice to have another adult in the room with me.
Sometimes I like to include the interpreter during classroom discussion
… you know, ask the interpreter about something related to the lesson .
But, s/he seems uncomfortable when I do this. Aren’t
they allowed to participate?
Pretty much, no. Interpreters are not there to participate.
In fact, professional interpreters try hard to avoid becoming any part of the action at all; their
purpose is to interpret it (the
action), not be it.
I’ve been a reading teacher for several years.
My first experience with a DHH student and interpreter was last year.
Wow, did I learn a lot! For
example, a few weeks into the year, the interpreter approached me privately to
say s/he was concerned that the DHH student’s ability might not have been
accurately reflected in the grades. I
was insulted … that is, until I learned that the student was getting her older
brother to do the work for her. How
did the interpreter know?
interpreters consistently monitor a student’s comprehension of interpreted
material. The interpreter constantly
checks for understanding, not only by observing classroom interactions, but by
asking probing questions during moments of one-on-one communication.
a student feels unclear or demonstrates lack of understanding, interpreters will
attempt to clarify the information by changing the interpretation to match the
student’s language level or contextual knowledge or experience.
Because of the focused intensity of communication between the student and interpreter, it makes sense that interpreters have unique insight concerning a DHH student’s language and communication skill, knowledge, and ability.
This is one of the interpreter's specialties, and a reason s/he is on the IEP
17. Where can I find more resources designed with hearing teachers in mind?
Start with the TerpTopics resource pages for educators, where we have begun collections of books, videos, organizations, and other links of interest to mainstream, deaf, ASL, and interpreter educators, administrators, and program designers. Select your area of interest from those on the Educator Resources launch page, here.