Classroom Interpreting

Parents - Case Studies: Exploring Different Perspectives on Educational Interpreting

Priscilla Shannon Gutierrez, Outreach Specialist at NMSD
and proud mother of a Deaf high schooler

One of the topics that often is not even considered by parents, let alone the IEP team, is whether or not the Deaf or hard of hearing child is even ready to use an interpreter. This is especially true for very young children who often do not have sufficient language skills to successfully access the curriculum through an interpreter. I should know - I learned the hard way.

When my profoundly Deaf son was in second grade, the IEP team recommended he be mainstreamed for math, science, art and P.E. The recommendation was for interpreted education during math and science since art and P.E. were considered “visual enough” for access without an interpreter. Not knowing any better at the time, I went along with the recommendation. What a mistake that was!

In a very short period of time, I was getting phone calls that my normally sweet-natured, well-behaved son was becoming a problem in both math and science classes. He was losing his temper, becoming disruptive and often had to be escorted back to the self-contained class. It quickly became apparent to me that this Dr.Jekyll/Mr. Hyde transformation was a direct cause of his not being ready to effectively work with an interpreter in a mainstreamed setting. His lack of proficiency in signed language was preventing him from understanding the curriculum being interpreted, and his lack of training in HOW TO effectively use an interpreter left him unable to advocate for himself by saying, “Hey, I didn’t get that – could you repeat it again please?” We reconvened the IEP team and I insisted he not be mainstreamed since he obviously was not benefitting from an interpreted class.

As part of an effective IEP team considering placement options and services, it is critical that the team consider the child’s signed language proficiency level as one of the key factors in determining if they are ready to work with an educational interpreter; and whether or not the child will require some training in how to effectively use the interpreter. Otherwise, the interpreted classroom may be relegated to words flying through the air and not much else.