Musings of an Educational Interpreter
Growing up, I wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to work in a hospital and be a part of something great. Then I discovered interpreting.
As educational interpreters, we are working and living in evolving times. In my humble years of service I have witnessed an array of scenarios that have made me laugh and made me cry. I have watched the field that I have grown to love, morph and change before my very eyes. I am honored to be a part of that progress.
It is after trying on every hat an educational interpreter wears, that I can say that this field has changed my life and my path. I am a part of one of the most important professions out there: helping to form our future generation.
In the course of my work, I have come up with four concrete lessons which I feel are arguably amongst the most important parts of an educational interpreter’s job.
1) Showing up. Sounds so simple, right? Being to work on time, ready to interpret the funny, crazy, angry, and joyful moments of youth to the deaf students and their growing minds is the very foundation of what we do.
2) Showing up: baggage not included. Much like batteries in those impossibly packaged kids’ toys, we often do not come equipped with everything we need to make our jobs run smoothly. However, our jobs should not reflect our personal baggage. Our hair should be clean, our clothes appropriate and professional, and our faces should be fixed with a smile. We are the faces these kids see every day, for better or for worse.
3) Showing patience. Let’s face it, our job is different than almost any job out there. People typically mean well, but lack the background knowledge required to understand our job description. You may be the first professional interpreter they have ever met or you may be the tenth. Either way, be patient; our jobs are hard to understand and our profession needs explaining.
4) Showing independence. Fostering independence in our students is possibly the hardest part of our job. The discretion required is a great burden that few understand. Once the subject, the expectation, and the communication are clear, it is our job to leave the situation where it lies. Sometimes, we have to watch the pieces fall so our students learn how to pick them up. I have not found this to be any easier than the day I started.
I think there is an impending guilt whispering in the ears of interpreters to lend a hand, literally. It whispers things like “Make modifications.” ”Don’t make them ask the teacher for clarification on when their homework is due…just tell them”. “If they missed class, catch them up.” But, where does this guilt stem from? A lack of confidence in the interpreter’s own skills? Improve them. A communication gap at the student’s home? Educate the parents then accept the outcome. Pity? Let it go.
My goal is not to be heartless; it is to be honest. Be honest with ourselves, each other, and our profession. This honesty is crucial for the betterment of our field and the students we see on a daily basis. If the problem is you, or you think it may be you, fix it. Most fields would require training or a mentorship-type program. Since our profession is so new and relatively isolated, the responsibility falls on us and our colleagues to keep our ethics and skills in check.
If the problem is a lack of communication between the deaf student and his/her family, we have a responsibility as a profession to figure out how to minimize this problem. Unfortunately, we do reach a point in which we must back off and allow the family to do what they see best for the child.
If the problem is pity, it is time that we collectively decide that this often unintentional pity does not do justice to any parties involved. Pity does not graduate on-target children. Pity does not get into college. Pity does not look back on it’s life and say “Man, I had good interpreters.” We have to be the independence-fostering interpreters they need, even if we are not the interpreters they want at that stage in their lives.
It is with great excitement that I look on to the future of this field. It humbles me to think that someday I will sit back and recall a time when our profession was enduring another stage of growth. We are all looking at the same goals of standardizing ethics and professionalism. I am grateful that I look around and see professionals fighting everyday to make our profession the prestigious field that it is. I am so blessed that I fell into a field that is a part of something great.