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Inquiring Teachers Want To Know

At 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.

The items are in no particular order, but are numbered for ease of reference.

NOTE: 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 accommodation.


 1.  I have several DHH students in one of my classes.  Two interpreters are scheduled, each works with a small group of two or three students.  When I really watch what they’re both signing, they don’t seem to be signing the same thing.  How can I know the students are receiving the material being presented?

We completely understand your question (we get this one a lot).

One 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.  Here’s a glossary that we hope helps a little.


2.  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.


3.  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.  Why 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 …

When 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 professional interpreters.


4.  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.

Classroom 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. 

Interpreting 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.


5.  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!

Arrange 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 personnel.


6.  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.

LANGUAGE 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 about. (smile)  

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 the deed.  

An 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.  


7.  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.  How come?

Happily, 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.


8.  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.  

Here’s a handy-dandy guide that may help.  Here’s another one.  Feel free to contact us for additional information or clarification.


9.  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?

Gosh, 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.


10.  I admit it!  I’m human.  I may occasionally misstate a fact or misspeak in some other way.  How does the interpreter handle that?

The 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).

An 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."


11.  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.  

The interpreter is presumed to be a responsible staff member and adult, and can be expected to act accordingly.


12.  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 student)?

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.  

Here’s a quick video clip as a reference, and check out these for more information.


13.  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).


14.  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 startles me.  We both laugh.

We know what you mean; we have had the same thing happen.

The interpreter will speak when interpreting the signed communication of the DHH student.

The 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?


15.  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.


16.  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?

Educational 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.

When 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 team.  


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.


This page was edited: 11/14/2009
This page has been visited Hit Counter times since: June 8, 2009.
TerpTopics is a trademark and service mark of TerpTopics, LLC. © 2008; 2009. All rights reserved.

TerpTopics TM SM is an independent entity; as such does not claim or attempt to claim, represent, or imply by any means whatsoever that it is associated with any other entity that may or may not offer services, goods, or information of interest to interpreter, Deaf, or student communities.  The opinions expressed here those of TerpTopics unless otherwise stated.  Please keep in mind that, while every effort is made to present correct, appropriate, and reasonable information that is based on our experience, anecdotal experiences of others, or developed during the general course of study and professional development, we do not represent TerpTopics as having cornered the market on wisdom (heck, no!) or experience; one reason why links to several other good and reliable resources are made available throughout this site, and we hope that earnest seekers of knowledge will take advantage of them.


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