This is a guest post by Giovanna Carriero-Contreras and Dr. Holly Silvestri. See below for their bios.
Join the educational interpreting movement!
Spoken-language interpreters have worked in K-12 school settings in the United States for many decades, often invisible to the greater profession. It’s time to give them a big shoutout. The job translators do is equally as complex, but here we are focusing on spoken-language interpreters. Our signed language colleagues are ahead of us. They have a national code of ethics and organizations that provide professional development as well as certification tests in place.
Interpreters in K-12 schools interpret challenging conversations in often uncharted settings. Today, they may interpret during parent-teacher conferences, a call to a student’s home, at meetings with school career counselors and parents needing assistance with college applications and student aid, or at disciplinary meetings between parents, students and vice principal, or even expulsion hearings with attorneys present.
Tomorrow, they may be interpreting at all sorts of meetings required by the special education system including multiple providers and family members, or at large public meetings, such as school board meetings, graduations, press conferences, and during emergency situations.
Before the pandemic, they generally interpreted face to face wherever needed: in the teacher’s classroom, the counselor’s or principal’s office, the gym, the cafeteria, sometimes in the corridors, or at the parents’ home.
They interpret sitting down, standing up, in a corner of the room, up on the stage, by the presenter, by the parent, on the floor crouched next to a child being assessed by a specialist or across the room.
Depending on the situation, educational interpreters interpret in consecutive or simultaneous mode. They may also jump across interpreting modes if need be, while negotiating decisions based on who speaks, what they say, and how they say it. When barriers to communication arise, they engage in decision-making processes that call for deep critical thinking skills. They also engage in the sight translation of often complex legal or medical documents, such as parental rights and responsibilities, disciplinary hearing outcomes and the results of psychological evaluations.
Truly, the assignments they cover as educational interpreters require them to use the entire gamut of interpreting skills and beyond. When the pandemic hit, they suddenly became much more visible members of the educational team and the profession in general. That visibility was long overdue as they broke through language access and technological barriers.
Thanks to conversations sparked around the country, interpreters in educational settings agree that there is a need for specific, professional trainings to competently address all the challenges posed by the complexities of the system in which they work.
Shifting the paradigm
The time has come to do something to shift this paradigm for the beter and change the way educational interpreting is perceived.
As educational interpreters, we feel the responsibility to serve communities that otherwise would be left in the lurch. But that does not mean that we cannot advocate for better conditions, better trainings, proper credentials, and fair career paths.
During these unprecedented challenging times, we have seen an extraordinary amount of information sharing, free workshops and free videos that have enabled us to see how much our job would benefit from better trainings and more resources available to us. We have also seen an increased interest in what we do by the press and the public. For all these reasons and more, the time is right to bring educational interpreters into the fold and claim what we need to do our work best, in an ethical way that conforms to best practices in the field.
But what are the best practices in our field? Few other interpreting specializations demand such a fully developed skill set starting with a solid understanding of interpreter ethics and protocols across the field. And yet, educational interpreting has only recently begun to formalize as a specialization. There are conversations that focus on setting the hallmarks of professionalization and aim at reaching a national consensus on the role of the interpreter, ethics and standards of practice that reflect the full scope of what we do, sufficient training programs that target the unique settings we work in, national organizations that oversee the field, and some kind of basic public understanding that the expertise required to do the job does, in fact, require education and training.
Many school districts across the country have built up credible structures to support language access services in their schools. Several states have created codes of ethics, training programs and academic certificate courses. In the fall of 2019, a new organization, the Interpreting and Translation in Education (ITE) Workgroup launched a national effort to lay the groundwork to create national ethics and standards.
The process to be as inclusive as possible is slower, but it has been very rewarding. Here are some of the efforts led by some of the ITE Workgroup committees: the Job Task Analysis (JTA) Committee has been working hard at compiling a large collection of job descriptions of spoken and signed interpreters and/or translators in educational settings in all 50 states with the purpose of listing all the tasks asked of these positions.
Our Ethics Committee is working on not just the review of existing ethics and standards but in understanding which ethics and standards apply best to educational settings and how to navigate between the often hybrid community-legal nature of the sessions that interpreters navigating. They launched a call to educational interpreters and translators to share ethics related issues they experience to be considered in the creation of national code of ethics that specifically addresses the realities we work within. Each of these efforts is a critical milestone in beginning the process of turning a “setting” into a true specialization.
How do we take advantage of this moment?
Medical interpreters paved the way for us during the 1990s and 2000s on their journey to certification. By researching the history of that journey, several lessons become clear. Over the past thirty years, despite and often because of the bumps along the way, healthcare interpreting has become greater than the sum of its parts and now enjoys a broad coalition of stakeholders committed to the overall goal of making language access real in healthcare while also supporting the professionalization of those who provide the language bridge. We are walking in their footsteps hoping to accomplish similar goals.
The stakes are also high for the millions of immigrant families who need language access to participate fully in decisions about their children’s education. Without interpreters, translators, and all of the other resources required to make meaningful language access possible, limited English-speaking families are at great risk of being left behind. A preponderance of evidence from researchers has found that students with involved parents earn higher grades, enroll in more challenging academic programs, have better attendance, stronger social skills and better behavior. This was found to be true regardless of income or background. Research has also found that schools with strong community support perform better overall and have lower dropout rates and higher-quality educational programs. Additionally, at-risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, violence and other anti-social behaviors decrease as parent involvement in education increases.
Now is the time for educational interpreters to get involved with local and national efforts to professionalize the field. Now is the time for sister interpreting associations, (both leadership and stakeholders) to support these efforts as well. Right now, too much is being asked of interpreters who do not yet have access to adequate training, acceptable working conditions and pay. Let’s help educational interpreting achieve a national presence and infrastructure so that the absolutely essential role interpreters play does not come at the cost of the very people who provide that access. Join the movement. Join us and help us reach out to as many districts and interpreters as possible.
For additional information on educational interpreters & translators, visit the below organizations:
ITE Workgroup: www.iteworkgroup.org
Orange County Department of Education, Interpreters and Translators Conference in educational settings: https://ocde.us/EducationalServices/toast/InterpretationAndTranslation/Pages/ITC-2021.aspx
Giovanna Carriero-Contreras, is a national and international speaker, Trainer of Trainers and co-author of The Community Interpreter®, and The Medical Interpreter textbooks. She is the CEO and co-founder of Cesco Linguistic Services and is involved in the development of professional standards at the ASTM as a member, and at the ISO as the Chief of U.S. Delegation. Currently, she is co-authoring two additional textbooks for professional interpreters, continues her advocacy to raise the bar of the interpreting profession and is a founding member of the ITE Workgroup.
Dr. Holly Silvestri is the Senior Coordinator of Translation, Training, and Curriculum at the National Center for Interpretation at the University of Arizona. She has been an educational interpreter for over 10 years and is also the Chief Executive Officer of Linguistic Connections, LLC. She has taught in the degree program for Spanish translation and interpreting at the University of Arizona. She is also a founding member of the ITE Workgroup. Currently, she is working on a book with other co-authors that is designed as an advanced training textbook and workbook for interpreters in school settings. Her working languages are Spanish, English, and French.