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American Annals of the Deaf

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Evolving Paradigms in Interpreter Education

Elizabeth A. Winston and
Christine Monikowski, Editors

                                                       Christine Monikowski

The Academic’s Dilemma: A Balanced and Integrated Career


The study of interpreting between American Sign Language (ASL) and English is a relatively new discipline linked to linguistics, communication, sociology, and studies of social interaction. Scholarship is key in this “academization.” The dramatic increase in ASL/English interpreter education programs in institutions of higher education across the United States requires instructors who can succeed in the academy, which often means completing doctoral degrees and navigating through the tenure and promotion processes. As a “practice profession,” our constituencies expect us to interpret; as academics our constituencies expect us to teach and conduct research. In this chapter I address the challenges faced in the academy—teaching, practice, and research—and reflect on a balanced and integrated career for interpreter educators making their way through this culture of teaching and learning.

A balanced and integrated career filled with intellectual stimulation, a continued sense of learning, respect and recognition from colleagues and students, financial reward (one must be realistic), and a happy and fulfilled life—is this not what we all want?

I became a teacher because I enjoyed being a student but could not financially afford to be a perennial student; teaching seemed to be the next best thing. I could continue to read, learn, conduct research, interact with like-minded colleagues, influence the next passionate generation, and earn a living at the same time. That was what I wanted to do and, to a certain extent, it is what I still strive to do. My life in the academy is a good one and I am afforded many opportunities to keep my energy fl owing. The real challenges are how to organize my time, how to identify appropriate topics for research and writing, with whom to collaborate, and when to say “no.”

Legato’s classic “three-legged stool” (2006, 71) for a faculty member in higher education describes the three primary responsibilities: teaching, practice, and research. (Legato’s work specifically addresses physicians who teach in medical school, but the model applies to other disciplines, especially interpreting, regardless of the languages involved.) ASL/English interpreting has a history in teaching and practice. As we continue to move into higher education, we are coming to grips with the importance of research; it is “the heart of what [teaching in the academy] is all about” (Boyer 1990, 1). I strive to be a scholar and maintain a balance in my professional life; addressing these three responsibilities requires its own amount of time and attention.

As I approach my 30th year in higher education (seven years in a lecturer position at a major university in the American Southwest prior to the tenure-track position I now hold), I appreciate the opportunity to reflect upon the time and energy I have expended to arrive at the rank of full professor (which required one tenure portfolio and two promotion portfolios over the years) and the choices I have made along the way.

Interpreter Education Programs (IEPs) in Institutions of Higher Education

Where Are We Now?

Although the field of translation is a well-established, well-respected, and venerable area of academic inquiry, interpreting between American Sign Language (ASL) and English is a relatively new interdisciplinary area of academic study linked to a variety of disciplines such as linguistics, communication, sociology, and studies of social interaction. This is manifested in the qualifications for faculty positions in this discipline in institutions of higher education (IHEs); the required qualifications are not consistent.

The differences between typical two-year and four-year IHEs in the United States make the issues even cloudier. According to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics (2010),[1] there are 1,180,153 full-time faculty employed in four-year IHEs (colleges and universities) and 216,756 full-time faculty employed in two-year IHEs (most commonly called community colleges) in the United States.

1. Most recent data available.
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