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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Evolving Paradigms in Interpreter Education
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The practice of interpreting should inform our teaching. If we want thoughtful students, then reflection on our own work as interpreters is crucial. Palmer (2007, 30) asks, “How did it come to be that our main goal as academicians turned out to be performance?” We should not simply perform; we should share, reflect, and learn while teaching. For me, the best way to continue to learn about interpreting is to practice it on a regular basis. After all these years as an interpreter, I continue to find events and/or interactions that challenge my thinking. I continue to reflect on the work I render and the decisions I make. Interpreting keeps all of us honest and connected to the community, engendering credibility among consumers and colleagues (i.e., working interpreters). Does our teaching reflect our experiences? Are discussions in an ethics course grounded in reality? A cursory review of current job listings for faculty in IEPs shows that, if not required, then at minimum “preference will be given” to applicants with certification from the national professional organization in the United States, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), indicating the importance of experience in the field. There is no data available on this concept, but conventional wisdom indicates this is de rigueur for our faculty.

This is where the issue of time rears its head. When pressed to consider priorities, how does one account for the time involved in accepting interpreting assignments? When one is preparing a tenure portfolio, into which category does this activity fall: scholarship, professional activities, service to the institute, or service to the community? Will a tenure-review committee understand the importance of this activity? If we present it as important, then the tenure committee will probably see it the same way. If our interpreting informs our teaching, then it is vital to our portfolio.

Before the onset of video-relay interpreting, my institution was purported to be the largest employer of signed language interpreters in the world; there are more than 100 full-time interpreters on our campus and numerous other part-time or freelance interpreters. I have often interpreted classes in the evenings after my faculty responsibilities were fulfilled. I am fortunate because these assignments were usually within walking distance of my office, but they still required time. This work serves to keep me humble, to remember what a challenge it can be, and to show my students that my in-class self is not “performance” but real. If appropriate permission is granted, they come to observe me and see a completely different side of me. It is not my class and I am subordinate to an unknown faculty member who may or may not share my approach to teaching. At that point, I am not a faculty member; I am an interpreter whose primary goal is successful communication between individuals who are not using the same language. Oh, what discussions I have with my students! The underclassmen see me interact with Deaf consumers, being “personable but not personal” (Witter-Merithew 1982, 12). The upperclassmen can see how I, too, struggle with complicated classifiers, how I need time to comprehend the signs and fingerspelling before I attempt to voice in English, and how I handle my mistakes. Sometimes they take a turn interpreting and everyone revels in the experience, including the deaf consumers. This keeps my teaching grounded in reality and helps me understand my students’ fears and emotions as they prepare for their future. These experiences also keep me grounded in the community of approximately 1,200 Deaf students we have on campus.

These experiences also have an impact on my teaching in both skills courses and content courses. For example, the small-group activities I use for my ethics class come from dilemmas I experience when interpreting on campus. I use my role as instructor, with which my students are familiar, to illuminate my role as interpreter. This is often a good place to begin our discussion because my students’ peers (i.e., the Deaf students on campus) will one day become their consumers.


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