Communication Breakdown:
First Experience with an Educational Interpreter

By Amanda Feldman

This is a true story. However, the names were changed at the author's request

All of us need to realize how important the right interpreter is for our child's educational experience. An interpreter with a personality or skill level that does not match our child's can greatly impact the educational experience for that year.

In the fall of 2003, my daughter, Mary, who is profoundly deaf and uses sign language, started Kindergarten. This would be her first year of formal schooling. I chose to enroll her in a private school because I wanted her to have a Christian education. I expected her to have an ASL interpreter and academic expectations that were exactly the same as for hearing children. The private school welcomed Mary, because she was working at grade level and they would not need to change anything to accommodate her. The school district was helpful and offered an interpreter, an itinerant teacher who would travel to the school three times each week, and a speech therapist who would work with her twice a week.

I started work - my first full time job in the 6 years since Mary's birth. I did not worry about Mary's situation. I figured with all those people and support surrounding her, she was more than fine. All of these people had worked in the area of deafness for 10-15 years or more. I concentrated on the other things. One day, a friend of mine called me to tell me that, "someone-who-knew-someone" had been talking about this terrible situation where this deaf girl was in a private school was without the proper services....... I was shocked!

The next morning, I was at my daughter's school, sitting in her classroom, observing everything. Again, I was shocked! I cried for the rest of the day. I was so disappointed in myself. Why had I thought that I did not need to check on the situation and make sure everything was okay for my daughter??? Why had I thought that these people would take care of the situation??? Why had I not checked this situation out for 6 months??? Now I understood why my daughter was behaving differently at home and why things didn't seem to be quite right.

My daughter is a strong-willed, independent child that wants to do things her way and is constantly testing to see if the "line" has moved. She is bright, outgoing, dramatic, passionate, and full of life. She needs high expectations. When I went to observe, I saw the interpreter sitting in a kindergarten chair right in my daughter's face. Mary was not paying attention to the teacher. She was coloring and "tipping" her chair while the rest of the class watched the teacher and participated in the class learning. When the teacher asked Mary a question, the interpreter would timidly tap Mary and tap Mary and tap Mary until finally Mary would look up and sign "What?"!

Mary did not participate in the class. She wasn't expected to. The interpreter did not voice what Mary was saying (Mary can be quite the little imp, when she wants to be.) The teacher had no idea about all of this. The interpreter was so timid that Mary ran all over her. It was not until there was a substitute interpreter that voiced appropriately for Mary that the teacher had any idea of Mary's attitude!

I sign well and can evaluate the interpreter's sign skills. The interpreter gave my daughter answers when Mary had no idea how to answer the questions the teacher had for her. How could she, when she wasn't paying any attention? The interpreter made up signs instead of fingerspelling words that did not have a sign or that she did not know. She was overwhelmed and Mary knew it.

I went and saw this situation and I realized that my daughter was in danger of not being ready to go to 1st grade. It wasn't because she wasn't capable. It was because she had no access to the education provided. She had the wrong interpreter.

It doesn't matter who is supporting our child's education. It doesn't matter that they have a good reputation or decades of experience, or in this case, an EIPA rating approved by my state. We, as parents, must keep in touch. We must go and observe. We must know what is going on or we have no idea what to ask for and what to improve in our children's education.

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