Classroom Interpreting

Parents - What is the role of an educational interpreter?

Communication Access Support

Educational interpreters provide communication access to students who are deaf or hard of hearing by faithfully and accurately representing the classroom instruction, teacher/student dialogue, and relevant sound information in the mode of communication used by the student. Depending on the language modality used by the child, the school will assign an educational interpreter who uses one or several of the following: American Sign Language, SimCom, Signed Exact English, Oral, Cued Speech, PSE, CASE, etc. The interpreter’s role is to ensure that the student can fully and effectively access all sound information. Interpreters can convey both what hearing people say and what the student with hearing loss signs.

In the school setting, an interpreter’s role takes on greater complexity because the student is not just a “mini adult” who is deaf or hard of hearing. The educational interpreter’s charge is to act in the best interests of the child. The interpreter will be taking into consideration an individual student’s language level, academic competency, social/emotional development, and interpersonal skills, as well as the professional guidelines of the school, district, and state in which he/she is employed.

Not a personal disciplinarian

Maintaining a healthy student/interpreter relationship depends on mutual respect and a shared understanding of each other’s role. For some teachers, educational interpreters are delegated the role of “classroom cop.” This occurs when a general educator lacks the competence or confidence to communicate directly with the student who is deaf or hard of hearing about problem behavior. Since the interpreter is an adult in a position of authority with an established relationship and he/she has the ability to communicate with the child, teachers often assume (consciously or unconsciously) that discipline will be handled by the interpreter.

This can send a mixed message to the student who is deaf or hard of hearing who realizes he/she is being treated differently than the other kids. It potentially leads to misunderstanding or role confusion for the student, i.e., “she’s upset with my behavior, should I even tell her I don’t understand what the teacher is saying?” In other words, the student may perceive his/her right to communication access is variable depending on his/her behavior. This scenario usually results in serious dysfunction for the interpreter and the student, and the stakes are high. Fall-out between interpreter and student results in a breakdown in communication access and flow for the deaf or hard of hearing learner. This must be avoided by a proactive strategy to which all parties agree that maintains focus on the classroom teacher as authoritarian and disciplinarian.

A Changing Role Based on Student Age/Grade

The interpreter’s role is a changing one—not only from student to student, but from early elementary age to high school. As the child matures into adolescent and teenager, the educational interpreter can play a significant role in empowering the student into self-advocacy. Encouraging a student to take a more active role in determining his/her access needs is crucial. Interpreters can assist in this process by shifting responsibility for communication access to the student. Before graduating, a student who is deaf or hard of hearing should be expected to know how to request interpreter support for classes and extra-curricular activities.