Classroom Interpreters - Collaborating with the Educational Team
The educational team is a community of professionals whose collaborative efforts and expertise foster the cognitive and social development of students who are deaf or hard of hearing. As required by federal law and best practices in education, the team must work together to plan, develop, and implement each student’s program.
Most likely the educational team will consist of the parents or other family members, a deaf educator, a speech pathologist, the classroom teacher, and an audiologist. The educational interpreter is a member of this team as a related service provider. The student should also be on the team if old enough. There may be other team members depending on the needs of the student.
Be a Team Member
The educational interpreter is an important member of the educational team. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) has identified the educational interpreter as a related service provider. The educational interpreter often provides the educational team with information about how well the placement is working.
Professionals work collaboratively to ensure educational access for a student. No one member of the team can design and implement an appropriate placement. It takes a team. Team members listen and learn from each other. When they disagree, they are respectful and professional. The interpreter can gain respect from team members by initiating thoughtful, informed problem-solving and decision-making practices.
Talk About Problems and Decisions
An educational interpreter makes many decisions during the course of the day. It is part of the job. However, the interpreter should discuss the challenges that she/he has and the decisions that she/he makes with the educational team. The entire team needs to understand the day-to-day decisions the interpreter is making. Does the interpreter alter content because she/he hopes the student will understand it better? Does the interpreter avoid fingerspelling because the student doesn’t seem to process it? Does she/he have to help the student initiate classroom participation?
Do not just talk about academic issues. It is valid to talk about how the student is interacting with classmates and teachers. It is also reasonable to discuss issues related to the student’s understanding of the interpreter’s role.
Report Objective Observations and Behaviors
The educational team must be informed of the student’s responses and behaviors that cause concern for the interpreter. The interpreter should be specific. Instead of saying, “Isaac can’t understand the teacher,” the interpreter should give specific examples of when and what he didn’t understand. For example, “Isaac couldn’t answer any of the teacher’s questions in the unit on how Native Americans lived. He couldn’t recall the new vocabulary in the lesson when he was completing the follow-up assignment. He had to keep asking questions.”
The interpreter can keep simple accounts of behaviors to help the team understand how frequent or infrequent a behavior is. For example, “Danny answered the teacher’s question incorrectly one time out of ten times.”
Some interpreters believe that they cannot talk about the student’s behavior and challenges in the classroom – that only the classroom teacher can comment on the student’s learning or behavior. However, this is a misguided over-extension of a Code of Ethics that was developed for adult consumers. In reality, as a member of the educational team, the educational interpreter has an obligation to provide information to the team that will help evaluate and plan a student’s program.
Listen and Learn From the Team
No professional stops learning. Children and education are complex and no one person has all the answers. The team approach is used throughout education because children have needs that no single professional can know. Colleagues are important resources for learning.
Healthy professionals seek to grow and learn from each other is one important avenue.
Be Proactive In Learning About Your Students
The interpreter should ask questions about the goals and objectives for each student she/he serves. He or she should understand the student’s strengths. What skills can the interpreter count on? What skills are targeted for further development? How does the student prefer to communicate? How does the student like to be supported in social conversations? Students can also help the interpreter understand their needs sometime at a very young age.
Attend All IEP Meetings, Ready to Contribute
The interpreter can learn a great deal by listening to other professionals and parents talk about the deaf or hard of hearing student. The interpreter should participate in the IEP meetings as a professional. If the student or the parents need an interpreter, a different person should interpret so the primary interpreter can participate.
Actually, much of the work for an IEP occurs prior to the meeting. Often professionals bring observations and evaluations to the IEP meeting in order to inform the team of the student’s progress and needs. The educational interpreter should know when these meetings are scheduled and the types of information she should bring to the meeting..
It is best practice for members of the educational team to discuss issues that should be presented at the IEP meeting prior to the meeting. It is important for the educational team to have the interpreter’s input throughout these discussions.
Families and students have federal rights that ensure professionals treat personal information confidentially. These requirements are serious. When confidentiality is violated, the interpreter has broken federal rules and requirements.
Violating confidentiality also leads to lack of trust with families and students. Professionals have the responsibility to treat all individuals with respect, which means that all information must remain within the educational team.
Confidentiality within an educational setting means that the interpreter can talk with members of the educational team about a student. She should not talk with others, even though they may work in the same school. When discussing a situation with someone not on the team, do not divulge any personal information that would reveal an identity.
Most importantly, never share information about a student with other families.