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Educational Interpreters' Lament

It is So Hard to Be an Educational Interpreter


Updated April 24, 2011

If your deaf or hard of hearing child is mainstreamed with an interpreter, the key to your child's academic success is not the quality of teaching, but the interpreter who communicates the material being taught. Educational interpreters play such an important role in mainstreamed deaf children's education, yet the conditions that they are largely forced to endure are often unacceptable.

Frequent complaints from educational interpreters include:

  • Inadequate pay. Too many educational interpreters, including one I know personally, are forced to take on second or even third jobs to make ends meet.
  • The expense of becoming certified, which restricts the supply of interpreters. More states are passing laws to require interpreters to meet certain levels of certification, but if they can't afford the tests...
  • A tendency for some school districts to hire interpreters as classroom aides - the aide/interpreter, so they can pay them less.
  • Understaffing of the interpreting services, forcing some interpreters to work too long interpreting classes, leading to repetitive motion injuries.
  • Not enough time to prepare before classes. Interpreters need preparation time to familiarize themselves with vocabulary and the material being taught so that they can properly interpret the critical information for the student.
  • When not enough qualified interpreters can be found, the school districts take the "first warm body" to come along even if the person hired can't sign their way out of a paper bag.
  • Not enough training opportunities, though this seems to be changing judging from the increasing number of conferences and workshops for educational interpreters.
  • Being viewed as less professional than other interpreters in different settings.

Unless these concerns are addressed, the shortage of educational interpreters will only get worse. In fact, in one region, educational interpreters are threatening to quit or have already quit.

Those are just the common complaints that I am aware of -- there may be others. The deaf and hard of hearing community needs to insist on top-quality interpreters being hired in their children's classrooms, and to support educational interpreters in their struggle to achieve more professional status and higher pay. Even if our children are not attending mainstream classes, we need to support them because someday our children may need interpreting services during their school careers, particularly at the high school level.


I would like to know why the interpreter isn't respected as an important part of the Deaf child's IEP or educational team. Who else in more suited to relay back the student's strengths and weakness and than that of the interpreter who is with them all day. Instead, we are told that if we are invited,.... we are only allowed to give information pertaining to the students use and understanding of sign and nothing about things we believe might help the student with the educational process. How is this in the best interest of the child?
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