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Evolving Paradigms in Interpreter Education
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Reflections on My Career


The first leg of that three-legged stool (teaching, practice, research), and the most important for me, is teaching: “For the truth is that teaching is frequently a gloriously messy pursuit in which surprise, shock, and risk are endemic” and “all teachers worth their salt regularly ask themselves whether or not they are doing the right thing” (Brookfield 1990, 1–2). I work hard and enjoy the work immensely, but I also enjoy thinking about teaching, reflecting on what I do, mulling over my approach to a topic, and talking to like-minded colleagues about the paths we have chosen. My philosophy of teaching is straightforward, although it has evolved—thankfully—over the years. With time and experience, I have come to know that teaching is more about learning and thinking than about content. If I can just help my students understand how important it is for them to reflect upon their work—in both skill and content courses—then I have succeeded. I thoroughly enjoy interpreting between ASL and English and I enjoy the interaction the process requires. I want my students to become confident and comfortable so they, too, can enjoy the process.

I have experienced the gloriously messy pursuit; faculty who say they have not are not being honest with themselves. The challenges to grading have been few, but they drain my energy. The incidents of cheating have been sparse, thank goodness. The drama of many students’ lives is ongoing. I have questioned whether I help or hinder students’ success. I have been stung by remarks on course evaluations and I have been inspired by notes from current and former students. I have dreaded watching the recordings of student projects. I have basked in the successful presentations of fi nal projects. A bumpy ride, indeed!

I continue to be challenged by keeping my courses interesting and up to date; it is sometimes difficult when I continue to teach the same course year after year, but that is what also inspires me to read and write. The issues in my class and the challenges with which my students struggle motivate me to seek out solutions and in-depth understanding of those struggles. One of the most rewarding aspects of my position is academic reading. I read and attend conferences with other like-minded faculty whose disciplines are far removed from mine but with whom I share a passion for teaching and learning. I read about what it takes to be a successful teacher, from how to organize successful groups to introspective works that challenge my life’s choices (Brookfield, Dewey, Freire, Palmer, McKeachie, Millis among others). I have found solace and stimulation for my teaching with colleagues in other IEPs around the country. Teaching and learning is not what I do; it is who I am.


In recent years, most interpreter educators and working interpreters have begun to call ourselves a “practice profession,”[5] which involves practice of the actual work during the educational experience, attempting to claim our place among the fields of education, social work, law, and medicine by requiring practicum or internship opportunities. We also have begun to discuss the professional consultation and our concerns about confidentiality. This implies that the educator in an IEP needs to also be a practitioner. Our resemblance to the aforementioned professions is a bit murky. Not all law professors are practicing lawyers, nor are all medical professors practicing physicians. However, we believe if one is going to teach interpreting, one needs the bona fi des, the ongoing practice, to give credibility in the classroom. We certainly have had definitive research from individuals who are not practicing interpreters, but those who do practice often have underlying and unmentioned doubts about the work of those who do not, perhaps because there is no clear connection to the Deaf community and to those interpreters who practice the profession on a regular basis. The other half of this practice approach to our profession is teaching; where do we practice that? More colleges and universities are offering opportunities for doctoral students to practice their teaching in those very programs (beyond the traditional responsibilities for the teaching assistants). This is an issue that the academy continues to face and that our field needs to acknowledge.

As we attempt to hire faculty with credentials to prepare them for success, we must also be cognizant of the fact that those faculty need to be practitioners in the interpreting community. Many of our early educators were successful and well-respected working interpreters, and as a field we still recognize the importance of that practice. It is imperative that our faculty continue to have contact with Deaf consumers. In fact, at a recent conference of the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada,[6] it was quite clear that Deaf faculty and Deaf interpreters are finding their place in the field. The collaboration between hearing interpreters and these members of the Deaf community is an intellectual endeavor that reflects mutual respect.

Classroom instruction can then resonate with veracity; we understand the issues, not just from our distant past but from yesterday. If we experience the process of interpreting on a regular basis, we can share the successes and failures with students in an active, exciting way that transcends articles and in-class activities. If they cannot see our passion for the work, how can we expect them to be passionate? Observations allow for reality and integrity, the “wholeness . . . [that] is integral to my selfhood” (Palmer 2007, 14). In reality, interpreting is about connections (video-relay interpreting notwithstanding). Interpreters tend to be people who are about the connections with individuals. What better way to contemplate our interactions than interpreting and facing the challenges of those interactions on a regular basis? What better way to connect with students than to have them observe our work and to see us face reality?

5. This has come to the fore most notably through the work of Robyn Dean and Robert Pollard in their demand–control research and publications.

6. Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada 2012 in Calgary, Alberta: Creativity and Collaboration.

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