Using Interpreting Services

When considering the possibility of placing you as a deaf or hard of hearing student teacher in the classroom with hearing students, we strive to prepare you, the cooperating teacher and the students for situations involving the use of interpreting services. Naturally, using interpreting services may be a "first" for the different parties involved, but after everyone, including yourself, becomes oriented to using interpreting services, communication can be very effective.

A variety of factors, ranging from degree of hearing loss to personality to family and educational background, will result in different communication issues and preferences for each student teacher. Thus, while some general guidelines are provided here, we must remember that, as with any population group, we should be careful about developing any pre-conceived notions. Because of these individual differences, some of you may elect to use an interpreter during the student teaching experience; some may not. You and your university supervisor will make this decision, after careful exploration and discussion. If a cooperating teacher has any questions or concerns about whatever decision you and your university supervisor make, she or he should be given the opportunity to discuss such issues.

The Role of the Classroom Interpreter

The role of the classroom interpreter is to facilitate communication between persons who use different languages. In the case of sign language, deaf persons may choose to sign in a way that closely represents spoken English words and sentences, or they may choose to sign in American Sign Language. It is up to you to choose which communication method you prefer when communicating with the students and your cooperating teacher in the classroom, and it is a good idea to discuss such preferences with the classroom interpreter before you begin your student teaching practicum. The interpreter then becomes responsible for adjusting his/her signing style to meet your preferences with regard to communication.

Regardless of the signing style you choose to use, the interpreter will aim to speak in standard American English when voicing for you. Some of you may prefer to voice for yourselves in some situations, using interpreting services to receive information that is spoken to you. Whether interpreting into sign language, into spoken English, or both, the interpreter strives to convey the content accurately and with the same emotional tone as was conveyed in your original message.

As with any interpretation process, however, there is some influence of the interpreter's personality, speaking style, and linguistic skill, which may slightly change the message in some cases. The phrase, "something got lost in the interpretation" does apply to sign language interpretation as well as for any other language because there are some phrases or concepts which simply do not translate well from one language to another. It is also important to be aware that the interpreter will not "fix" communication errors - the interpreter is not to make the message sound more exciting, clearer, more pleasant, or more polished than the original message.

While interpreting, the interpreter must be entirely focused on the communication dynamics of the classroom. Attempts to make comments to the interpreter, or to involve the interpreter in conversation, interfere significantly with the interpreting process. Similarly, while in the interpreting role, the interpreter will refrain from initiating conversation, interjecting opinion, adding commentary, or participating in any way except to ensure that information is being accurately conveyed through the interpreting process. The student teacher and the cooperating teacher should expect to direct any questions, instructions, or comments to each other rather than to the interpreter. Even when not actively participating, the interpreter has a very narrowly defined role. The interpreter should not be asked to assume the responsibilities of maintaining discipline, tutoring, classroom monitoring, or any other responsibility which the student teacher is normally expected to perform.

Questions and Suggestions about Interpreting Situations

Using interpreting services may be a new experience for you, the cooperating teacher, or the students in your classroom. Naturally, there are many questions and concerns about different situations involving the use of interpreting services. Below are some preliminary questions you may have regarding classroom interpreting - use these questions as a guide for when you sit down to discuss student teaching arrangements with your university supervisor, your cooperating teacher and your interpreter(s):

  1. Where should the interpreter stand or sit?
  2. How will the students react to another person voicing for me?
  3. What is the role of the interpreter in relation to the student?
  4. Who decides when children are making too much noise in the classroom?
  5. How should I, as the student teacher, actually use interpreting services?
  6. How should the interpreter's role be explained to the teacher and the children?
  7. If a child asks a question of an interpreter, should the interpreter answer?
  8. How is it possible to keep the children from focusing on the interpreter instead of on me?
  9. How will I know which child is talking?
  10. How can I maintain eye contact with both the interpreter and the students?
  11. How do I handle a situation where the interpreter has made an error or where I want the interpreter to change a specific behavior?
  12. Do I need to have the interpreter follow me wherever I go in the school, at all times?
  13. When is the best time for interpreters to switch during the daily schedule?
  14. What information do I need to share with my interpreter before each day begins?

The section below contains a variety of suggestions for you, as the student teacher, the cooperating teacher, and the interpreter. These suggestions may answer some of the above questions that were listed and other questions you may have. Please go over the student teaching suggestions in the next section with your university supervisor, your cooperating teacher, and your interpreter(s) and feel free to ask any questions or discuss any concerns you may have. Also, it is a good idea to volunteer to go over the suggestions directed to your cooperating teacher and your interpreter(s) with them so that any questions they may have about your preferences can be addressed.

Suggestions for the Student Teacher

You, as the student teacher, should be aware that it is important to work with your cooperating teacher at orienting the class to using interpreting services. In addition, it is also vital that you work closely with the interpreter him/herself in order to ensure that effective communication is carried out at all times. Listed are some suggestions for you to assist in supporting the interpreting process. It is also a good idea for you to go over these with the interpreter and with your cooperating teacher.

  • Be prepared to meet with your interpreter a few minutes each day to discuss your plans, provide preparation materials such as schedule information, stories you plan to read, tests, or lesson summaries, and discuss ways of working better together. This on-going communication between you and your interpreter is essential for long-term success. Your initial meeting with your interpreter should include discussion about your preferences for communication, whether or not you prefer ASL, wish to voice for yourself, and so forth. Establishing name signs for each student may also be important in the first week of your experience.
  • Work out a switching schedule for the interpreters, which will not disrupt the class. This schedule may need to be integrated with the schedules of other student teachers at the school to ensure that the interpreters are provided with adequate breaks throughout the day on a rotating basis.
  • Discuss the classroom environment with the interpreter. Be specific about what you would like the interpreter to do in various activities and settings throughout the day (e.g., where do you want the interpreter to stand or sit for various activities such as storybook reading, and so forth?)
  • Work out signals with the interpreter to indicate the noise level in the classroom. You will want to have signals which indicate a single disruptive voice from a specific source, a general loudness level which is acceptable, and a general loudness level which is disruptive. You will need to be able to distinguish between noises which come from students talking, noises that come from student movement (drumming on the desktop) and external noises, such as a banging radiator.
  • Be prepared to discuss concerns with the interpreter when and if they arise. If you delay in providing feedback about a problem, the situation usually becomes worse. Providing positive feedback about things the interpreter did that were successful and worked well is also important.
  • Be prepared to take charge of awkward situations, such as students talking to the interpreter instead of you. You may need to explain the process for using interpreting services over and over again. Flexibility, particularly with young students, will be very important.
  • Remember that every interpreter has a slightly different style and personality. You may find that you work better with some interpreters than with others. It is expected, however, that you will find positive ways to fulfill your obligations as a student teacher despite variation in interpreter style. If you find you are having significant difficulties, talk them over with your university supervisor, and if necessary, contact Gallaudet Interpreting Services.
  • Be sure that the interpreter and Gallaudet Interpreting Services is notified if school is cancelled or if you are absent. If you work primarily with the same interpreter, it is suggested that you get this interpreter's phone number.

At the end of your student teaching experience, you will have the opportunity to fill out an interpreter evaluation/feedback form.

> Sample interpreter evaluation form <

Suggestions for the Cooperating Teacher

It is essential that you, as the cooperating teacher, be aware of what an interpreter is and is not. The classroom setting changes the traditional role of the interpreter, and adjustments must be made to ensure effective communication between the student teacher, you, and the students. As the cooperating teacher, you are encouraged to support the interpreting process and below, you'll find suggestions for doing so. It is also a good idea to have the student teacher go over these suggestions with you.

  • Introduce the interpreter and demonstrate the best way in which to communicate to the student teacher using interpreting services. A question and answer period in which the students can ask the student teacher questions is a good way for students to practice communicating through an interpreter. Discuss some "what if" questions with the students, such as "What if the interpreter is standing next to you - is it okay to ask the interpreter for help with a math question?" or "How do you get the student teacher's attention when you need it?"
  • Set a good example for the students by addressing the student teacher directly and making direct eye contact with him/her. For example, state: "I would like to talk to you about the field trip", rather than, "Tell her I want to talk to her about the field trip."
  • Be aware that although the interpreter will attempt to incorporate as much information as possible into the interpretation, there are often many competing messages, and the interpreter will sometimes need to make a decision to ignore something. For example, ignoring the noise of a plane flying overhead, in order to complete the interpretation of a student's question. The interpreter cannot predict which of many competing sounds will suddenly become the focus of conversation. Additionally, the interpreter does not manage the eye contact of the deaf student teacher. There are times when information is signed but is not received because the student teacher has looked away. Therefore, an occasional check on whether or not the student teacher is aware of certain information that might have been omitted is helpful.
  • Be aware that the interpreter can maintain concentration for the purposes of interpreting for only about an hour. After that period of time, fatigue is significant. Therefore, interpreters usually work in teams and switch on and off periodically throughout the day. Working out times for interpreters to switch which do not interfere with the classroom routine will be an important part of initial planning. Interpreters will attempt to make these switches without disrupting the classroom dynamics.
  • Provide preparation material to the interpreter. Helpful information includes class lists, daily schedules, lesson plans, and school policies to which the interpreter is expected to adhere.
  • Explain the fact that there is an interpreter present, and why, to visitors or parents so that they are not confused by the interpreting process. It is not necessary to introduce the interpreter by name.
  • Be aware that interpreting schedules cannot be easily changed and that some advanced planning is necessary in order to make the most effective and efficient use of interpreting resources. Schedule changes should be communicated to the student teacher and the interpreter in a timely manner. There may be occasions when the interpreter cannot accommodate the schedule change.
  • While it is certainly appropriate to exchange brief social greetings with the interpreter, refrain from making extended comments to the interpreter, particularly while in the presence of the student teacher. Refrain from asking the interpreter to run errands, supervise children, or assist with clerical tasks.
  • Speak in a normal tone of voice, at a normal pace.
  • Interpreters are expected to exhibit professional behavior at all times. Conduct which is not appropriate for the school environment should be reported immediately to the Supervisor of Interpreting at (202) 651-6199.

Suggestions for the Interpreter

You, as the classroom interpreter, are an important part of the team in which the student teacher, the cooperating teacher, and the university supervisor participate. As with many other interpreting situations, this situation will be unique, depending on the experience the student teacher, the cooperating teacher, and the students have with using interpreting services. In order to ensure that effective communication is shared by everyone involved in the classroom, along with maintaining a good relationship with the members of the teaching team, here are some suggestions you may want to review with the student teacher and cooperating teacher:

  • As an important member of the team involved in an exciting and innovative program, your performance can have significant effects on the quality of the experience for the students, the school personnel, and the student teacher. Open, professional, and ongoing communication with the student teacher will be essential throughout this experience.
  • The temptation to step out of role will arise on a daily basis. Student teachers may ask your advice on how to handle a student, where to get some information, or to spend recess chatting with them when you know they are supposed to be planning a lesson. Classroom teachers may approach you with concerns about the student teacher, or about another interpreter. Students may ask you to share their lunch, tie their shoe, to teach them some signs, or they may even challenge you with aggressive behavior. Your response to each situation must take into account the ground work you are setting for future interactions, the experience for the student teacher, and your personal and professional ethics. Due to the complexity of these issues, they are addressed in a separate handbook specifically for interpreters, available from Gallaudet Interpreting Services (GIS).
  • Your goal should be to find ways to be pleasant and comfortable with children, and yet not encourage attachments that may supersede their relationship with the student teacher. Strive to maintain a low profile.
  • Be particularly cautious about the use of school facilities. Often resources in the school are scarce, and the presence of interpreters and student teachers can easily overwhelm schools because of a shortage of office, lounge space, or telephone access. Always ask permission before using a phone or computer, as well as sitting in a particular area during a break. Your activities during break periods, as well as while actively interpreting, reflect on the professionalism of the student and the field of interpreting.
  • Recognize that the student teacher is learning and is under considerable stress. Tension and nervousness may create some difficulties in working together. Aim to be alert, pleasant, flexible, and ready to assist with interpreting needs.
  • Working well with a co-interpreter is also an essential piece of this experience. A notebook where notes can be written back and forth can be a valuable communication tool between interpreters, who usually do not remain in the room at the same time.
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