Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged

February 21, 2012

Can the collective voices of sign language interpreters working in K12 educational settings be the catalyst for a national conversation about the failures of the “system”? Gina Oliva suggests it is our responsibility to take action.

I am sure that most readers are well aware, that the entire “system” for educating hard of hearing and deaf children in mainstream settings is generally a mess, the kids are suffering, and no one person or entity is really in control.  Included in this “system” is the  entire state of affairs with regards to sign language interpreters in K-12 classrooms, across the United States as well as elsewhere around the globe. Let’s call it the “illusion of inclusion” as Debra Russell has so aptly put it.

Alone in the Mainstream

My K-12 experiences, along with the things I learned in my 37-year long career at Gallaudet and during my 46-year long relationship with my “deaf” (e.g. “hearing on the forehead”) father came together to prompt me to write “Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School” (Gallaudet University Press, 2004).  I am now working on a second volume of that book with Linda Lytle, from Gallaudet’s Department of Counseling, which will focus on the experiences of younger adults (currently age 18 – 35) as they look back on their mainstream years.   Naturally, this book will include comments and probably whole chapters about Educational Interpreting and the role sign language interpreters play in the lives of deaf children.

Interpreter on a Megaphone

This sense of the need for a second edition had been with me for a while when I found in my inbox the most recent of many letters received. The one quoted below was a serious gem that convicted me of the need for an entire new volume rather than simply a second edition.  It was a megaphone so to speak of the dire straits America’s (and the world’s) hard of hearing and deaf children are finding themselves in.  It is used with permission, and serves as the basis for this post.

Dear Gina,

      Hello!  My name is ________________ and I am a Sign Language Interpreter.  I do some freelance work but mainly I have been an Educational Interpreter in ________________ for eight years.  I attended your book presentation several years ago and am finally getting around to reading your book “Alone in the Mainstream.”    So far I am only on Chapter 6 but am already greatly impacted by what I have read.  I have worked with all ages from Kindergarten up to high school.  In all those settings with all different students I have used ASL, PSE, and/or Cued Speech.  Some of the kids I have worked with have had mild hearing losses, some profound.  These children come from hearing families who sign, hearing families who cue, hearing families who do neither, and a couple of families where the parents are deaf themselves.  One thing remains the same with each child I have worked with.  I feel inadequate. 

      Even though I am a highly skilled interpreter, I wonder if the mainstream setting is ever a social success, even with an interpreter, and everyday that I see the kids struggling I feel just awful.  It is very hard to watch day in and day out. 

      True, I have witnessed a few hard of hearing students who can speak clearly for themselves and are able to follow conversations quite successfully using their hearing alone.  I have seen them flourish, feel included, and have high self-esteem.  What is much more common however, and is so heartbreaking, is witnessing my students having the “dinner table syndrome” (as you put it), where they fake interest in some task to avoid looking lost.  I see a lot of “superficial participation” where onlookers think the d/hoh student is “just fine” (as you also put it) but really they need to look deeper.  My point is, this stuff still happens EVEN WITH AN INTERPRETER PRESENT! 

      In fact, what really kills me is how awkward it is when I am in a “social situation”– it’s just a no win kind of thing.  For example, I am sure you realize that kids will alter their talk if there is an adult around.  So it’s really not “normal kid talk” when I am around.  And if some brave kid attempts to “talk normal” when I am there (such as swearing or saying something they would never say in front of another adult), then the rest of the kids are uncomfortably giggling.  Then, I, the interpreter and the deaf kid by association is in the spotlight – and it is just so ICKY for all involved — it is not authentic at all!  It is tainted and altered by the mere presence of the interpreter.

      More often than not, the Deaf student only wants to chat WITH the interpreter; not with their peers THROUGH the interpreter.  For years I’ve heard educational interpreters talk about trying to encourage their students to ask the other kids in class what their weekend plans are, or what good movies they’ve seen lately, but then the D/hoh student either says “no that’s fine” and looks crushed as if no one wants to be their friend, not even the interpreter OR they go and ask their classmates a few engaging questions, but the conversation quickly fizzles and nothing comes of it.  I think an entire book could be written on the subject of Interpreter/deaf student relationships and how complicated it can get.

      It never fails that every year I work in education, I say to myself “I can no longer support this.  I need to quit and do only freelance and Sorenson work.”  I especially feel this way after reading your book, but then I remember that a lot of participants [for that book] did not have the “luxury” of an interpreter.  Another voice inside me says, “_____, you need to stay working in the schools. Parents will always mainstream their kids, so it may as well be someone skilled and competent working with them. ”

      That voice always wins out, and I stay. 

      But today I am not satisfied.  I want to do something about this.  I think people will read your book and then pause and be reflective, but then resume life thinking “nowadays schools provide more [and] better services than ever before.”  Well, I firmly believe MORE AND BETTER IS NOT ENOUGH!  Right, your subjects didn’t have interpreters (except one I think) and today many or most do have interpreters.  We need to push forward to ensure a better quality of life for tomorrow’s d/hoh students.   We need to ask the right questions, find the right people to share their stories, and make suggestions for making things better.

Heartbroken and Gagged

And so, this is from a “heartbroken and gagged” educational interpreter.  I am sure most of you readers have heard similar or perhaps even felt “heartbroken and gagged” yourself.  Heartbroken from watching the kids you are “working for” miss this, miss that, day in and day out.  Gagged because the dysfunctional system declares you are not to say anything about this to anyone.  Perhaps the latter is an exaggeration — perhaps you can talk to a teacher or some other school personnel.   Brenda Schick’s work on professional conduct guidelines state that as “related service providers” interpreters DO have a responsibility to be more than just a conduit of talking.

The Road Ahead

How do we get the school districts to accept this, to recognize the great value of the interpreter’s observations, and take these into serious consideration?  And perhaps more importantly, how can Educational Interpreters provide not just in-school support to their individual student(s), but how can they “report to the authorities” meaning the professionals who are concerned nationally and globally about the education of deaf and hard of hearing children.  It may take a village to educate a child but the villages ought to share information with other villages.

First, please find a way to get your collective observations into print, the media, to the Deaf Education arena, to parents, and to Deaf Professionals who are working to impact the “system.”  Secondly, think about the Devil’s Bargain, as suggested by Dennis Cokely, and consider giving back through local level advocacy work – in the EHDI system and in local or regional weekend/summer programs that bring your students together so that their social network can include others who face the same issues.

Should Interpreters Address Inadequacy and Neutrality?

Why is it that sign language interpreters working in mainstream settings feel inadequate?  Is it the expectation that h/she be “invisible” as discussed by Anna Witter-Merithew in, Sign Language Interpreters: Are Acts of Omission a Failure of Duty?  Is this “invisibility” what h/she was taught in the ITP attended?  Related might be a feeling that she is expected to be “neutral”?  I wonder how much of this feeling of inadequacy and or “neutrality” is from some academic knowledge or industry bias and how much is just plain old being a human being and not liking what they see?

If Educational Interpreters could come together to discuss how as a profession they might address this and related issues in K-12 settings, it would do much to boost the confidence and effectiveness of those working in the isolation of educational settings.  The collective voice of Educational Interpreters could hold much promise for alleviating the suffering of the children for whom we are concerned. The interpreter who wrote to me has become a colleague and we have exchanged many emails.  It is obvious that she is trying her best in her own setting, but there seems to be a dearth of support for taking these concerns and the solutions to a higher level.  What should that higher level be and who can lead this effort?

Should Interpreters Address the “Diffusion of Responsibility?”

In the above letter, the writer refers to the concept of “dinner table syndrome,” which I refer to in my book, where the hard of hearing or deaf student fakes interest in some task to avoid looking lost. This was my life day in and day out in my K-12 years and several of the 60 adults who wrote essays for Alone in the Mainstream extended this concept to another phenomenon I dubbed the “everything is fine” syndrome.   Together these two “syndromes” constitute the concept of “incidental learning,” which is the topic of a yet-to-be-published but complete dissertation by a fellow “AITM survivor,” Mindy Hopper.  In our day, the fact of this missing information was in itself invisible to all except the student.  But now, in the modern classroom, the student’s interpreter is a daily witness.  Not only does the classroom interpreter know the student is missing stuff, h/she knows what the student is missing.  This is so much more than any hearing parent of a deaf child has known unless she also spent all day in her child’s classroom.  Talk about power.

As potential partners with teachers and parents, I wonder if the sign language interpreters working in K-12 settings should have as part of their job description to keep a log of conversations or information that they suspect their “charges” (clients) missed. Wouldn’t this help the teacher and the parents determine if their student/child is missing so much as to warrant some kind of action?  Clearly, this would involve taking to heart Witter-Merithew’s lesson in bystander mentality and the “diffusion of responsibility”.   I wonder if these concepts can find their way into interpreter training programs and standards of practice, and how such could come about?

Advocate and Report

That children in general, especially when they reach adolescence, want and need space to discuss their lives without the presence of adults, is a developmental fact. That an interpreter’s presence in K-12 social environments works against the deaf child is an example of how you just can’t change city hall.  The hard of hearing or deaf child has obviously learned from experience that the “quickly fizzling and nothing comes of it” from conversations with their peers is what “always happens” and they have decided they don’t want to experience that again.   But, now, here is an adult (the sign language interpreter) actually witnessing and understanding what it might feel like.  Now the sign language interpreter is also witnessing the stilted social interactions of their deaf or hard of hearing “charge”. How can the interpreter not be expected to be an advocate/reporter?

In my educated and experienced opinion, the collective voice of Educational Interpreters is our only hope that the issues addressed herein could be remedied.  We, the Deaf Adults who are concerned for these children, need your involvement.  Two areas where you can help, beyond your in-school advocacy and the already suggested work to bring your collective voice to the forefront in Deaf Education, are in the EHDI arena (early hearing detection and intervention) and in the establishment/management of weekend and summer programs that bring the solitaires together.

Elevate Your Voice

Perhaps you are the heartbroken and feeling like you are under a gag rule, smart and articulate, educational interpreter in the Heartland.  Or you know someone who is.  If yes, what are your thoughts on this?  What do you think would bring about change?  What would lead to the day that your insights, observations, and suggestions as sign language interpreters would be taken more seriously?  What would elevate the status of interpreters working in educational settings? Your ideas might be simple, complex, seemingly impossible, step-by-step (we like step-by-step), or philosophical.  Bring ’em on.

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103 Comments on "Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged"

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Member
Gerdinand Wagenaar

In my country, the Netherlands, I believe K-12 interpreting is (still?) relatively rare.

I do hope that policymakers (and interpreters; I know of many newby interpreters here who argue that interpreting in K-12-settings requires team interpreting, so that new interpreters can learn from more experienced colleagues, grr) will finally listen to Deaf consumers and their organisations, and that funding can be shifted back from interpreting back to sign language/deaf schools.

goliva
Member

Good morning!
Are interpreters not used in the Netherlands because so many kids are implanted or??
As for team interpreting in the mainstream, now that’s a DREAM!!!!! And probably would go a long way to helping things.
Thanks for your comment.
Gina

Member
Hi Gina! WOW! What an eyeopener! I am a HOH mom of a child with PDD-NOS who is also HOH. What drives me nuts is the attitude that if a Deaf/HOH speaks clearly, they can function fully as a hearing person. I was envious of children who were “lucky” enough to have interpeters in class (I was the first and to my knowledge, ONLY HOH child to attend my private school, with no interpeter, notetakers accomodations, etc. Talk about “sink or swim”!)Now I know better. My child attend a private school for the Deaf for a year, after years of… Read more »
Member
Laura Lippincott
The problems discussed in this article are also rampantly prevalent in the Community College setting. I have interpreted in college settings for the past thirty years and can say unequivocally they are largely unsuccessful for deaf persons; especially the English classes. So much education happens as the deaf person is looking down at their paper. Teachers do not know how to work with visual people and visual language. No one asks, “How can I change my lesson plan to meet their needs as well”. Deaf students are not tested to see if they have learning disablilties. I often feel like… Read more »
goliva
Member
And did you know that many (I think almost 1/3, at least from my fairly reliable sources) of incoming Gallaudet students are transfers??? They are so used to being in “inclusive settings (ahem) that they select a hearing college (or to be close to home, save money, etc) but now they are old enough to decide for themselves they are sick of that lifestyle (education-wise) and transfer to Gallaudet. I suppose an equal number would go to NTID/RIT but I don’t have a source up there (smiles). Thanks for your comment!!! And P. S. Gee sorry you feel like a… Read more »
Member

It’s been a while since I attended RIT but NTID does get a good number of transfer students. Not sure if NTID/RIT gets the same # of transfers as Gallaudet since NTID/RIT already attracts the oral/mainstream students already with their cross-registration program.

Member
Hi Gina. We have two deaf students at our school with translators. My problem, is, that the one translators is the Mom of the student she is translating for. She is not well respected by the students because she gets involved in “stuff” that doesn’t concern her. She has been making decisions that the teacher should be making, including kicking other students out of class. She is not a neutral party and seems to be only interested in hers son’s success. She is not certified in any way and I would prefer to have someone more neutral doing her job.… Read more »
Member

Heather, I don’t know where you live, but you need to convince your district to come up with a job description for sign language interpreters, including educational and certification requirements. If you can get backing from your state Association of the Deaf and/or NAD and/or RID, that would help. This is doing WAAAAAAAAY too much damage to this child, not to mention the other children in the classroom.

Member
I, too, interpret mostly in the community college setting and have worked with several Deaf/HOH students where it doesn’t work for them. It saddens me that these students that were mainstreamed K-12 with or without an interpreter were basically “pushed” through the system so as not to be a burden on the school system. Teachers tended to “look the other way” because they felt sorry for the student or gave them passing grades with the thinking they were “helping”. This only ends up hurting them in the long run such as when they get to college and instructors are not… Read more »
Member
Thomas Green
I have experienced both deaf school and mainstreamed in public school. One thing that I really am currently discussing and encouraging people to do a paradigm shift from interpreters to language models for deaf students. It bothers me that interpreters are interpreting when the deaf child has no or little language acquisition when they start kindergarten. The deaf student’s exposure to language is often through an interpreter. If the interpreter is not qualified to be “educating” a child on language, that presents a challenge for the deaf child to learn language. It is the idea of hiring a teacher who… Read more »
goliva
Member

Hi Tom!

If you read up on Educational Interpreting, especially Brenda Schick’s work, you will learn that the quality in general is not what the students need or deserve. And this is not to lambast the individuals who are doing the interpreting. This is to say that the “system” that sorely needs changing ALLOWS this to happen.

Gina

Member

Thank you Thomas!

It is exactly this lack of language exposure, especially from birth to Kindergarten, that is moving me to create a program in ASL for those ages (well several programs). If a deaf child is born to parents not fluent in ASL, hearing or deaf, they cannot pass on language to their child. It is especially important for deaf children to have ways to learn language if there is not a visual language used at home.

Member
Laura Cozart
I have been an educational interpreter now for almost 10 years. The only way I feel that this can be addressed would be if the schools hired a deaf para/language model for the child and the interpreter really interpreted for them. This would have a two fold benefit as the deaf child would see a successful deaf adult role model and that deaf para could monitor if the interpreter is skilled enough to be an educational interpreter or not (at least be able to bring into question to those in authority what concerns they had with the interpreter’s skill levels).… Read more »
goliva
Member

Hi Laura..thanks for posting!! I would like to follow up with you on your ideas — could you please email me at gina.oliva09@gmail.com or friend me on FB (Gina A. Oliva)

Thanks!!
Gina

Member
Shelly Hansen
Hi Gina! Thanks for posting… I am a freelancer who started as an ED terp for 3 years and now does occasional substitute ED terping in K – post secondary. The most successful program I have seen is a regional program where the students have the opportunity to have a quasi-deaf school experience due to the large peer group with multiple signing staff and a pool of interpreters. Then students are able to form a signing peer set as well as branch out more easily into the mainstream peer sets. I firmly believe that any school that has a D/HH… Read more »
Member

I like the idea of offering ASL to students and staff as well!!

Member
PAInterpreter

You posted an interesting example. Does the student’s academic team, those involved in his IEP, know that the content is beyond him/her due to the currently language proficiency that he/she has at this moment?

Curious,
PAInterpreter
–interpreting for about 17years in the educational setting and doing well.

Member

Our district actually has a cluster of similar aged children with interpreters, but they all go to their homeschool in isolation because of a misunderstanding about the Least Restrictive Environment. It drives me mad!! The powers that be are not trained in Deaf Education and several people have tried to explain but it falls on deaf ears, excuse the irony. I long for a day when we could have a cluster of kids being educated together, being able to provide so much support through full time D/HH resource, team interpreting… Sigh.

Member
goliva
Member
Wow. Thanks for sharing this article Shelly…..not only does it demonstrate possibly one of the worst cases (but probably not wholly uncommon) but the reporter’s obviously lack of knowledge shows throughout… And: “[Judge]Wacker ordered the district to contract with two specialists — who also testified in the case — to devise and implement a learning plan for Garcia to get him caught up.” Another wow. No way is this young man gonna get “caught up.” What a tragedy and I am so glad the mother had the wherewithall and support to bring this to court. I have long felt that… Read more »
Member
Jennifer Harper
What an in-depth and interesting study on the state of the educational system with regard to d/hoh students! I agree that there definitely needs to be much change in the system and the person who would generally know the most on the topic, aside from the teacher, would be the interpreter. That brings into question the qualifications of the interpreter, of course. Yet, if the interpreter is, like you, experienced and qualified, their voice can play a very powerful role in the progress toward improving education in mainstream settings. The interpreter is able to see things from both perspectives and… Read more »
goliva
Member
Exactly!!!! I met with a key RID person last week. We talked about where we might go with this – to be continued. Meanwhile thank you for your ideas — it seems that the ITPs – the training that goes into the newly-being-trained interpreters is a big piece of the puzzle. Enforcing the interpreters role as a “related service provider” is another along with educating statelevel people as to their real legal and moral responsibilities so that it can trickle down to the actual schools, principals, teachers. And to everyone, I welcome your “stories” of what you actually witnessed in… Read more »
Member
Donna Davis
I will try to send you some stories, Gina. Thank you for writing this! While I appreciate the many truths in this article, I want to add another perspective to the discussion. What I have observed is that students transfering from all Deaf schools into mainstream environments tend to have grossly substandard academic abilities, as well as a general lack of exposure to a wide variety of concepts. Even though I know you never said this, I am concerned that people may read your article and conclude that Deaf students should not be mainstreamed. The research that was done to… Read more »
goliva
Member
Hi Donna….thank you for your comments and I look forward to hearing your stories. I too wish there was a way to take the best elements of “the Deaf Schools” and bring those into the mainstream, somehow. Truthfully, the whole push to mainstreaming was done rather haphazardly and yes we are human and we have messed up as far as these kids are concerned. I speak of us as a whole species, in that regard. I too have heard of individuals who apparently had the good fortune of what you describe, they lived near a Deaf school and could thereby… Read more »
Member
Diane Plassey Gutierrez
Gina, as a graduate classmate of yours, I applaud all you have written about this deaf-in-a-hearing-school syndrome. It reflects my experience both at the elementary and university levels, too. These settings are where young people get more than an education: they learn sophistication, social skills, emotional intelligence, etc., and the Deaf child loses out no matter how intuitive and skilled interpreters may be. There just is no substitution for peer on peer education. Even the Deaf student who is an excellent reader still gets shortchanged in the interaction sphere. God bless the interpreters, but make the schools Deaf-friendly by requiring… Read more »
goliva
Member

Hi Classmate!!!! And isn’t it interesting that at this turn I am working with a faculty member from our Department (Linda Lytle)?? Talk about full circle!!

And I say a very loud AMEN to your last sentence. The battle continues. So we have to keep on keeping on.

Gina

Member

This is so true and so heart breaking! Not only for deaf children but for other as well. Maybe ASL should be taught as a second language instead of Spanish.

goliva
Member
Now that would be a great solution also. One thing I say at every opportunity is that my own dear mother, when she was in her 80s and losing her hearing (it was mostly no hearing for the last several years of her life) told me she wished the family had learned to sign. When I think how much EASIER this would have made her last years it just boggles my mind why more older people don’t take seemingly no-brainer to heart. Knowing signs, even if not “full ASL” really WOULD make their lives easier – such a large percentage… Read more »
Member

Brilliant.

Member
Kitty LaFountain
When I first started reading your article I started humming “Memory, all alone in the moonlight…”But sadly I couldn’t say “…smiling at the old days”! I first started in the mainstreamed school systems in 1978, wait I think I should have used quotes for the word “mainstreamed”. It was about as mainstreamed as when my profoundly deaf sister started school and was placed in one classroom with multiple handicapped students (she was three years old). She was “mainstreamed” to stand in the cafeteria line with hearing students (this was in the ’50s). Then in 1982 I moved on to another… Read more »
goliva
Member

Worn out!!! I get it!!! But maybe this blog will give you a glimmer of hope. I would love for you to send detailed stories to gina.oliva09@gmail.com

Thanks for the fight you fought!!
Gina

Member
Thank you so much for this article and conversation. I am finding similar frustrations as all of you. My situation is a bit different. I hold a certification as a Teacher of the Deaf, am an Interpreter and teach ASL at a local community college. I worked as an itinerant teacher of the Deaf for several years in a very rural area. It was not unusual for me to travel to 5 different districts in one day. I saw daily how the system was broken educationally, socially and functionally. I finally left that job and and taught in the general… Read more »
Member

What about truly rural areas? Just for perspective, I talked to a mother in eastern Montana where the closest Teacher of the Deaf, sign language class, or any deaf students were 200 miles away.

Member
Pearl Youth AKA Pamela Steiger/LaBianco
In 1981 during time of RID’s certificate evaluation training, I experienced oppression from SCRID regarding approach of RID evaluation when I knew that what they described as “ASL” was not ASL. All of them against me made me realize that THEY had not been taking ASL linguistics yet. So I lost my interest in continuing my renewal application for RCSC and moved on. Yet I still have problem in many, many interpreters who are NOT CODA of especially those born Deaf parents with language denied and delayed acquisition like mine who prefer to use pure ASL. Their attitudes are still… Read more »
Member

Very good points. Thank you!

Member
jerry wright

T have sought out Trenton for years and I was never able to locate him. I did several presentations for him when he was director of Living Centers for Disabilities. We became friends. I am devastated to hear of his death. Thanks for honoring him.

Member
jason smith
We here in Washington State are facing tremendous challenges with getting laws passed for more oversight and higher requirements in Educational Interpreting. I recently heard we are one of 8 states left that still don’t have any laws requiring state licensure of interpreters. Lawmakers are resistant mostly because we are in a budget crisis and they are afraid hiring and training better interpreters will require more money. Last week, a very brave deaf high school student testified in support of a proposed educational interpreter bill to the Washington State House Education Committee. The bill proposed more oversight of educational interpreters,… Read more »
Member
Oh….that is crushing. I am so sorry to hear that bill did not make it out of committee. Teachers are required to be certified and credentialled. Audiologists and speech therapists must meet professional academic standards. Now that the EIPA is available, it should not be an option to place students with non-certified interpreters. Educational interpreters could strike. You know the old adage: if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem. “We won’t continue to work providing an essential service supporting educational access for D/HH kids until statewide certification standards are adopted. The kids deserve qualified… Read more »
Member
Pamela Kiner
Jason, I am an educational interpreter in a consortium-based program in Beachwood City Schools (a suburb in Cleveland, Ohio). We employ ten interpreters for approximately 28 D/HH students. About five years ago, a group of us formed a committee and approached our district about implementing the EIPA for our interpreters. Our district became a testing site and paid for our tests. We proposed that all Beachwood interpreters have a minimum 3.5 EIPA score in order to maintain employment. An interpreter with a 3.5-3.9 receives a yearly stipend. A 4.0-5.0 receives an even bigger stipend! We believe that we are the… Read more »
goliva
Member
These last two posts, Michele and Pamela, give some food for thought on what can help improve the situation on an individual basis. I think they both point to training and perhaps even a “new breed” of professional who would be trained to fill the various functions mentioned in the various posts herein. If the US of America really wants mainstreaming of Deaf and Hard of Hearing kids to be “successful” they (again, who is they, I guess the government) will need to accept that a 2 year degree or even a 4 year degree provided to an 18 year… Read more »
Member

That sounds like a hybrid position: Deaf ed/Interpreter. An attempt to add a Deaf ed specialist to the interpreter position. The role of the interpreter would have to change if there was an administrative teaching component. Dream big…have the interpreters get a teaching credential. Create a 5 year program that results in a MA in Deaf Ed specialist-Interpreter.

Member
Pearl Youth AKA Pamela Steiger/LaBianco
I agree with you, Gina Oliva, hoping that some of those courses will include two things–mingling-with-quasi-native-ASL-user internship and character analysis. I learned soem great accomplishments of fluency in ASL as second language from few interpreting students who were under me and Dr Fleischer in our summer season workshop of interpreting training offered by both NCOD and Special Education Dept.. There by my suggested recommendation to see if it worked, they tried to mingle with only born Deaf folks living isolated from hearing community in rural country northeast of San Diego for THREE years. By that time when they returned to… Read more »
Member

I remembered suffering growing up on mainstreamed classes, watching my interpreters frustrated… Now I’m reading this??? I felt compelled to see if I can help add my voice or perceptions of it? Please feel free to email me? Thank you!!

Member
Thank you so much for posting this. A lot of what I read reflected my own short experience interpreting in K-12. I’ve been having an ethical dilemma since day one and this article pretty much nailed it as to why. I am probably one of the unqualified interpreters others mentioned in their responses (fresh out of an ITP with state level credential) I feel like my student is not receiving the quality of education he deserves and I feel like I am contributing to it. But is no interpreter better than an unqualified one? In my ITP, the teachers warned… Read more »
goliva
Member

OOPS. Not sure why or how but Julie I responded to you…but it’s a few posts down. New at this!!
Gina

Member
Deaf Consumer
#1 – Where are the interviews and “data” from deaf consumers? Please remember that all deaf consumers need to know that THEY can speak up for themselves. Yes, many don’t learn this until later in life, or they never are directly taught what the role of the interpreter is supposed to be. #2 – I see no mention of personality. Personality plays a huge role in these types of situations. It’s not *just* about having the language foundation, though having weak language skills often (but not always) lead to poor social skills and so forth. #3 – As interpreters, you… Read more »
Member
Pearl Youth AKA Pamela Steiger/LaBianco
Honey whomever you are, who won’t idenify himself or herself. I think you overlook what we have talked about. Based on MANY, MANY educational researches, those few ones, who succeeded in mainstreaming programs with use of interpreters like your case, are highly gifted learners. MANY of born Deaf students have lower IQ than yours and even than mine, are forced to be in mainstreaming programs by their ignorant hearing parents and are intentionally kept there by hearing ignorant teachers, staffs, and other authorities for sake of self interest selfishness–more money flown from a state government. Responsibility should be placed on… Read more »
goliva
Member
Hi Julie, Thanks for your honesty!!!!! Really appreciate it. As for the question as to whether an unqualified interpreter is better than no interpreter? That is a very tough question. From one perspective, it is not better because the hearing people in the school (teachers, etc) will think “everything is fine.” But if there is NO interpreter, I think that would depend on how badly the student needs one. Does he have a CI or hearing aid? Can he follow at least the teacher if he sits in the front row (that was me in K-6 1955-61). Don’t have one… Read more »
Member

He has hearing aids and teachers use an fm but he still relies on interpreter for other people speaking. Please feel free to contact me to discuss further, I’d love your feedback.

goliva
Member
Hi there “Deaf Consumer”, Thank you for your well thought out and organized post. I do not mean to discount individuals like yourself (and some could say like me) who benefitted in some ways or many ways from being Alone in the Mainstream or from being in some kind/size of mainstream program. I want you to know there IS research that gives voice to people like yourself, who can look back as adults and tell about their experiences. My own book (Alone in the Mainstream) has as it’s core 4 themes gleaned from over 240 essays written by “former solitaires”.… Read more »
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Deaf Consumer
I think I need to clarify something… I was NOT the sole deaf student in my school. I absolutely recognize that being truly alone can have a negative impact on deaf students. I’ve had friends tell me that I was lucky to have grown up attending schools where I had the benefit of being around other deaf students. At the same time, the fact that there were approximately 20-30 deaf students in each of my public schools at any given time (elementary, middle/junior high, and high school), meant that I was truly able to see the impact of personality and… Read more »
Member
Visiting very interesting building at Rossyln, Va – “Newseum” December 1999, almost 50 states – newspapers periodic day – front pages or headline copied paper which was posted on the board had Los Angeles Times printed one of series – articles about the public schools. It showed that mental retardation students could not learn how to read any book in mainstreaming schools. Sending them to special school or resident school among special teachers could teach them guranteed skill how to read. It sounds as same situation as deaf/HH students. My suggestion you surf on Los Angeles Times web site for… Read more »
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Cousin Vinny
Just throwing this out of here… What if technology could be used? i.e., mainstreamed Deaf/HH students get, say, 15 minutes a day to engage in structured sessions with their peers at the Deaf school via VP? These sessions would be structured by the Teacher of the Deaf’s at both institutions and incorporate some social and/or emotional intelligence components. This doesn’t solve the immediate issues surrounding social interactions between mainstreamed Deaf/HH students and their hearing peers at their schools all day long. Sure, academic interactions are taking place, and the interpreters contribute to it immensely. But on a social/emotional level, I’m… Read more »
Member
I’m a retired teacher and administrator from the Newfoundland School for the Deaf. I became involved in Deaf education through interpreting, although I was not “certified” at that time. Back in ’71 there were few interpreters and fewer certified, trained interpreters. When I became National Director of the Association of Canadian Educators of the Hearing Impaired (ACEHI), I was instrumental in advocating for the use of certified teachers of the deaf to be used in ALL classrooms that had a Deaf or Hard of Hearing student. Having interpreted in classroom settings in the past (both high school and university), I… Read more »
Member

Perhaps an annual week-long conference(s) (national &/or regional, like R.I.D.) dedicated to educational ‘terps needs & concerns? During summers, of course. 😉

goliva
Member

Good idea!!! NOTED!! Actually I was told they have such an “animal” in at least one state already! Maybe others???

Brandon
Gina, I came across this article over the weekend and felt that it was something that supported many of the comments here and the perspective that the entire system is a mess. It appears that it isn’t just D/deaf students that struggle interfacing with the system, but D/deaf teachers as well. This is an excerpt from the article (URL is below). “Kelly Laatsch, a senior from Freeland, has been deaf since birth. She is in her final year of the education program and is completing her student teaching requirement in a class of hard of hearing students in Saginaw. Laatsch… Read more »
goliva
Member

Hi Brandon…I did see that and commented on it on FB. What a “catch-22” situation. I hope Kelly wins her fight.
Gina

awilliamson
Member
Amy Williamson
Thank you so much Dr. Oliva, You have clearly outlined many of the factors that confound a mainstreamed education for deaf children today. At the heart of all of your points is ‘our’ role in this. I am a certified interpreter. I am a child of deaf parents. My parents are both products of a residential deaf school education. They both went to Gallaudet and came back to their home state to become teachers at a residential school for the deaf (not their Alma Mater, but the rival state school). I have other deaf family members and they all went… Read more »
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Sharon Grazioso
I read the article, and all the responses (well, most of them…). All I could say to myself is: “Yeah!” “I know!” “This is SO true!” I have seen these examples first hand, from Kindergarten all the way up into College level classes. I meet with the teachers before the semester starts, and explain the “cans and cannots” of the deaf student. They all agree and say they understand, and ask that I let them know when they are going too fast, or if I need them to repeat anything. If during the lecture, the students are copying something from… Read more »
goliva
Member
Thank you everyone who continues to read and post here. Amy I love your story and you make so many good points..I won’t comment on them individually here but as you read on you will see that your comments sparked my work today: Today I spent my day working on one of the book chapters where I hope to explain the “readers digest version” of how Educational Interpreting came about in the first place and where we find ourselves today. Actually I found myself doing more reading than writing – revisiting some articles and websites, particularly the “EIPA Guidelines of… Read more »
Member
(Hi Amy!) The DHH program that I am currently working in is a regional program that has Certified Teachers of the Deaf, and interpreters for the students that are mainstreamed. We draw from 10 different school districts. Our program is from 3-21 age. The TODs are able to support the students in both self-contained, direct instruction classrooms & within mainstream classrooms. They are able to support the terps in areas that challenge them and the students. In working with Deaf students since 1973 I have found that it is critical that Deaf students have the opportunity to interact with other… Read more »
Member
Member
Blessed be Miss Gina; I am the present program moderator of our high school deaf learners department and i should say that it is still taking us a very long time to fully provide proper education for our Deaf in a mainstreamed set up. We do have a variety of sign language interpreters and it is only this school year that we will assess them after an 8 years of existence of the program in our school. Even though our country have very skilled SLIs still experts should be trained to fully assess our SLI partners. In order to bring… Read more »
Member
Great article, Gina. I am CODA, but not an interpreter and didn’t know much about this issue. Learned a lot from this post. The issue about interpreters being not much help for peer socializing brings up the problem that the public school system is not “responsible” for socialization, only education, and yet we learn maybe 75-90% of social skills and culture … at school. BUT in fact, the public school system in America, which started around 1870 when immigration was really skyrocketing, was founded partly to “culturize” and socialize (aka assimilate) immigrant children, to make sure they would learn the… Read more »
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Destiny Younger
I love this! I can completely relate. I feel that interpreters should act more human and not be just a “machine.” D/hoh children need to feel they can engage with their peers as hearing children do. But I understand that having an interpreter follow them around all the time can prevent their feelings of normalcy, and communicating is difficult and some don’t wish to endure the hassle. I have come up with an idea that might help some. I feel that educating hearing children about all aspects of the Deaf, including sign language would help to reduce the barrier. I… Read more »
Member
I am so happy to see this article and subsequent posts discussing this topic. As an interpreter myself of 28 years now I have witnessed all of this and have long supported the idea of expanding the typical role of educational interpreters, or creating a new classroom support position. Approximately 8 years ago my colleagues and I called a meeting of interpreter trainers, interpreters, deaf educators and researchers to discuss this exact topic. We spent two full days discussing the state of education for students who are deaf and HH. Several of us supported the notion of expanding the interpreters… Read more »
goliva
Member
Hi Patty (and everyone who has posted over the last few weeks), I have been inspired from all these comments, as I have worked on the two chapters on Educational Interpreting for my upcoming book. I have my own copy of Winston’s 2004 publication (Educational Interpreting: How it can work” The title should be “How it does not work” (LOL) but regardless it is a great collection of brilliant and useful chapters. I have devoured Brenda Schick’s website (Classroom Interpreting.org) and am citing it in several places. I also have wonderful examples of prosodic issues and sad little stories from… Read more »
goliva
Member

OOPs. Wrong address.
Gina.Oliva09@gmail.com Getting Old.

Member
Hey Gina, When I was a Jr. High student, a deaf student was transferred into my class. I wanted to get to know him, so I walked up to him and asked him if he could read my lips. He could, and we became friends. He opened my eyes to a wonderful community that I did not even know existed, but also to the ignorance of the people around me. I remember clearly that he only had an interpreter for some of our (honors) classes. The rest of the time he was on his own. I recall when a teacher… Read more »
goliva
Member

Ashley,
Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. Voices like yours, those of classmates of d/hh kids, are yet another voice we almost never hear from. You, along with the educational interpreters, also bear witness of what happens with the d/hh child. And, more telling, clearly this was happening only some short years ago, in the “modern” 21st century. I would be very interested in hearing more about your experiences with your classmate — you can contact me directly at gina.oliva09@gmail.com.

Member
As an educational interpreter in the UK, the system here is unfortunately much worse. Deaf children in mainstream schools don’t even have access to sign language interpreters. They have people who have learned a bit of sign language as there are fundamental things wrong with our system. The pay does not match the expertise of a fully qualified interpreter in the UK and therefore the job does not appeal to most as it’s difficult to sustain an income from the part time hours children are given. The system allocates a number of hours each week through an assessment – for… Read more »
goliva
Member

Hi Karen,
Thank you for posting your thoughts and experience on this topic. The situation is indeed maddening and is worldwide. You mentioned incidental learning and I wondered if you have seen this very recent dissertation. Dr. Mindy Hopper has done an excellent service to all mainstreamed children with this study. We need more like this. Here is the link:
http://rochester.academia.edu/MindyHopper

I am still welcoming stories for my two book chapters if you would like to contact me directly at gina.oliva09@gmail.com

Thank you again for your interest and concern.

Member
I am sure that Karen is talking about Communication Support Workers (CSWs), who work in British mainstream schools. What she says about ‘throwing the rule book out’ is interesting. I believe that it takes a certain sort of interpreter to work in education. That person must throw the ‘interpreter rule book’ out. CSWs are trained to work with deaf learners at all ages and communication levels. Interpreters however, are generally trained to work with deaf people who are high level sign language users. I work as a CSW, with an interpreting qualification, so my manager puts me with those deaf… Read more »
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EdTerp22Years!
A huge part of the problem is that those making the decisions – from “downtown” to the building administration to the “hearing therapists” (love that title) – have NO CLUE about deaf education or deaf children. They’re not going to listen to the interpreters because they think we’re just a conduit. I was told I’m not supposed to make any decisions, I’m just supposed to interpret and if the teacher teaches the wrong information, I’m supposed to interpret that, too (like I didn’t already know that and like I don’t have such a great relationship with the teachers I work… Read more »
Member

Just so you know: some former sign language interpreters are in higher level positions for change yet the position isn’t necessarily used for the greater good of the deaf and hard of hearing or the present sign language interpreters working directly in the mainstreamed situations.

goliva
Member

I would love to hear more about this either on this forum or privately. Confidentiality assured. Putting finishing touches on the book so would be great to hear more info soon! Thanks for your thoughts.
Gina Oliva (gina.oliva09@gmail.com)

Member
I was so moved by your blog, Gina. I have worked K-12 for over 30 years on and off and when you said “heartbroken and gagged”, it really struck a chord with me. I have had seen so many heart wrenchingly difficult situations that have been so difficult to watch. The thing that struck me the most was that no one in all the time I have worked in the schools has ever asked me for my opinion until you. I have a lot to share for anyone who would be willing to listen. I agree with those who commented… Read more »
goliva
Member

Thank you Laurie,
I am gearing up to “do something” – like “take this to the next level” over the fall and winter, doing so in my new position as a Board member with the American Society for Deaf Children. I will be posting something new here on SL and hope you will see this and join in.

Again, thank you for your caring and passion.
Gina

Member
After 15+ years of interpreting as an RID certified interpreter with a degree in deaf education and a teaching credential in two states, I have decided to take an interpreting position at a local elementary school. I have never worked harder! I am re-teaching every concept introduced to the class. I am interpreting every assembly. Can someone tell me why this is the lowest paying job I ever had? I have searched job descriptions for educational interpreters k-12 across the country and most are “slash” positions (interpreter/aide/para-professional). Most are under $20/hour (check out http://www.edjoin.org/advancedSearch.aspx and search “deaf interpreter), most require… Read more »
goliva
Member

Thank you “Zanyface”,
I am gearing up to “do something” – like “take this to the next level” over the fall and winter, doing so in my new position as a Board member with the American Society for Deaf Children. I will be posting something new here on SL and hope you will see this and join in.

I will check out that link also..am traveling and trying to do this in snippets!!

Again, thank you for your caring and passion.
Gina

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[…] find them frustrated by their work settings. Their experiences resonate with Gina Olivia’s post, Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged,” that identifies that interpreters often witness the tragedy of ineffective education for deaf […]

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[…] Oliva’s February 2012 article “Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms:  Heartbroken and Gagged” spoke to the issue of K-12 interpreters being actual eyewitnesses of the exclusion that […]

Member
After reading this article and reading a lot of the replies I’m understanding the issue a lot better. I do feel rather spoiled now as a K-12 interpreter who works in the HS setting. Although I sometimes feel disempowered/helpless to help the students, I often have many resources to turn to. Some of the things that are offered at my location are: -ASL classes for credit (geared toward hearing students so there are quite a few signing/hearing peers) – An ASL Club -A JRNAD club -3 Deaf staff members with varying positions – all of which are available for the… Read more »
goliva
Member

Thank you “K”
I am gearing up to “do something” – like “take this to the next level” over the fall and winter, doing so in my new position as a Board member with the American Society for Deaf Children. I will be posting something new here on SL and hope you will see this and join in.

I love the list you made of “good things” and what you wish for more of..I am sure I will use this somehow and inform you when that time comes.

Again, thank you for your caring and passion.
Gina

Member
Becky Hournbuckle
I recently retired (again) from K-12 interpreting. During the 70-s I first worked to implement the mainstream program in a public school in conjunction with a regional school for the deaf. At the time, we felt that was the best approach for higher functioning or more verbal deaf/HOH students. However, the students who left our program and went to the state deaf school seemed to be more well-rounded and better functioning academically than the ones who continued through the mainstreaming attempt. (Just my observation) I left the profession to stay home with my boys. Now, fast forward 30 years, since… Read more »
Member
Becky Hournbuckle

I want to add that I had full support from my principal and the staff as well as the SPED director. The teachers I worked with were awesome. They did their best to accommodate wherever possible. I was totally blessed in that respect.

goliva
Member
Thank you Becky, I am gearing up to “do something” – like “take this to the next level” over the fall and winter, doing so in my new position as a Board member with the American Society for Deaf Children. I will be posting something new here on SL and hope you will see this and join in. I appreciate you posting these comments. You are so right about family support!!! I keep hoping that in some cases K-12 terps can show (in a variety for ways, even by just being supportive) how important this is…. Again, thank you for… Read more »
Member
Paul Kiel, ASL Instructor/Lecturer Quincy University
I can fully understand about the mainstream program. It has been a mess for more than 50 years and counting. I grew up in oral program and was caught in crack from 1967 to 1971. I had to endear with the difficulties of classroom communications. I often have to bear and grin when I can’t get full information. No interpreters! I had to read lips all day from homeroom class to last class at end of the day. I wish I knew sign language back then and be able to have access better to communications. Those days are long past… Read more »
Member
my HOH son attending mainstream school nearby, at very first IEP meeting for my son, I demand that it is written that section 504 that requires equal access in education settings that it is put down that my son will have full time interpreter! At first they wd say well let’s start with small and see if he does need then we will have another meeting to increase from there. I stood up, and said gee, how would you like your children understand this amount you are asking and I am prepared to give a lecture or fact information how… Read more »
goliva
Member
Gina A Oliva

Hi Steve,
So glad your son had you and that you knew your (and his) rights. Just like you said, it’s really important for parents to understand what their children are entitled to. The parents should learn from from the EHDI personnel, for starters. Once their children “age out” of EHDI, they need other professionals for continued support and education/learning about their children’s needs.
Thanks for sharing your experience,
Gina

Member
Erika Ramirez
While reading this article and the different opinions of the readers, it prompted me to reminisce about my public education in America. Being a native Spanish speaker made me face different academical and social difficulties due to the Language barrier. Therefore, I agree with Laura Cozart’s idea with having a Deaf mentor in mainstreamed schools that are able to interact, guide and advice our Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. The reason why I agree with this opinion is because during my High School years I was able to have Hispanic mentor that helped me strife in many ways. Even… Read more »
Member
I am a hearing i,terorwting student. When I was in k-12 as a student we had a program where there were about 10 or so Deaf students in my class, and every year it was basically the same students in my class, hearing and deaf/hard of hearing. The hearing students including myself were encouraged to sign and to speak on my experience only, I loved to sign and to interact with with all of my peers. I don’t remember having the interpreter around during our lunch or our recess, although I suppose she might have been accessible if needed. But… Read more »
goliva
Member
Gina A. Oliva

Hello Alyssa,
Thank you for sharing about your experiences. Even tho you learned simcom, the DHH kids in your school were lucky to have even that. And, they were not “alone.” They had each other. I bet at least some of them have gone on to learn ASL and participate in the Deaf Community. I would be very curious to know how your former classmates would react to this article. And hope you will come back and share some more.
Thanks again!!
Gina

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