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American Annals of the Deaf

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Educational Interpreting: How It Can Succeed

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These four roles may cause confusion in the school setting when roles overlap or seem to conflict with one another. One can rightfully argue that transliterating-interpreting is the most critical function within the responsibilities of K–12 educational interpreting. However, let us not discuss this paramount role to the exclusion of the other three. Interpreting is only one support service (albeit the most crucial). Tutoring may be more appropriate than interpreting for some students, if not many (see chapters 2 and 3 about level of language skills). This use of an educational interpreter is an educational team decision, but it points to the need for K–12 educational interpreters to possess qualifications in addition to transliterating-interpreting.

Winston (1998) and Jones (1999) have identified and clarified the four roles that educational interpreters play in the public school setting. Jones’s (1999) Windmill Model presents the framework within which to address potential “dilemmas” faced by interpreters working in the public schools. The dilemma mentioned by Cartwright above with respect to the code of ethics is not a dilemma when properly viewed. Many of the ethical decisions an interpreter makes in the context of the K–12 public school environment are “right versus right” decisions (Kidder 1996) and are of larger magnitude than that of simply interpreting. If the goal is clear (appropriate, equivalent, and accessible education for the deaf or hard of hearing student), then the interpreter role becomes secondary to the role of consultant to the educational team. This adjustment in no way renders the interpreting responsibilities less significant. It is a critical blade of the Windmill Model. Problems continue to arise when the interpreter is unable to categorize the dilemmas into one (or more) of the four roles. However, professionals categorize decision making every day.


Participation (involvement, communication) and high expectations of deaf and hard of hearing students are indicators of success (Luckner and Muir 2001). It is incongruent to hold high expectations for students and to hold no (or minimal) expectations of interpreters who provide access to education. We are not even discussing maximum potential of deaf and hard of hearing students, as the Rowley case (Anthony 1982) has taught us. We are simply discussing equality of access. Deaf and hard of hearing students cannot meet high expectations (or even, heaven forbid, minimum expectations) when we do not even ensure that, at minimum, K–12 educational interpreters can provide equal access. Deaf students, with the help of their parents, school personnel, and peers, will drive themselves to achieve. However, they will not be successful if interpreters are not qualified.

Schein, Mallory, and Greaves (1991) contended that too many educational interpreters are not qualified. They determined that educational sign language interpreter subjects were, by definition, not interpreters, merely “communication aides.”

It would appear that in most schools communication aides choose what to interpret within very loose guidelines, if any, and that there is no ongoing assessment of the appropriateness of these moment-to-moment decisions. (Schein, Mallory, and Greaves 1991, 19)

It would be unconscionable and unacceptable to place any student with a teacher who is not qualified (i.e., certified, educated, and experienced). In fact, a teacher who is not qualified would not be a teacher at all. Yet, the above data show that deaf and hard of hearing students are subjected to unqualified, uncertified interpreters regularly.


Recommended guidelines and standards for the field are not new (e.g., Anderson and Stauffer 1990; EdITOR 1993; Scheibe and Hoza 1985; Moose 1999). Sanderson and Gustason (1993) have proposed a system for the evaluation of interpreting-transliterating skills specific to the educational environment. Educational interpreter certification has been

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