Classroom Interpreters - Interpreters and Children - Fostering Social Interaction
All professionals who work in a school setting must learn how to establish professional boundaries that are supportive and encouraging but maintain an appropriate distance. Because they often work with a single student, educational interpreters have different challenges than the classroom teacher, who typically deals with many students. This close situation can become too close when the educational interpreter becomes too helpful, too friendly, or too motherly. In other words, there are not clear boundaries. There are many factors that can cause an educational interpreter to have challenges knowing where these appropriate boundaries are.
The educational interpreter may not have had training to be able to identify the following:
- What professional boundaries are and how to handle those boundaries
- That the student may not spontaneously talk with other students and may “depend” on the educational interpreter for social chat
- That the interpreter may be overly helpful because she/he wants the student to be successful
- That the interpreter may believe that children who are deaf or hard of hearing need special assistance and friendships because of their hearing loss
- That the classroom teacher may not know how to handle an interpreted education and may inadvertently ignore the studen
- That the teacher may unintentionally isolate the interpreter and the student from the rest of the class, creating a class within the class
- That the teacher may believe that the interpreter is responsible for the student and may “divorce” himself/herself from the situation
Educational interpreters can help create healthy boundaries that encourage a student’s independence and development. In general, the question to ask is what is required and expected from the hearing classmates both in terms of good behavior as well as what is allowed and overlooked. The deaf or hard of hearing student should be treated in a parallel manner. Guidelines to follow include:
- Respecting the level of development. A student’s interpreting needs change from elementary to middle school, then from middle school to high school. Children in elementary school need more support, encouragement, and modeling.
- Respect the family’s right to be the child’s parents. Do not take on "parental" roles as part of your daily interpreting duties. All teachers and adults in a school program are models and mentors but it is important to maintain the family’s right to make decisions for their child.
- Socialize with families thoughtfully. Educational interpreters should have good professional relationships with families, and often that includes socializing outside the school. Even when socializing, keep some sense of professionalism and healthy boundaries.
- Maintain professional roles with the student when interpreting, tutoring, and talking. This doesn’t mean a cold demeanor. Most classroom teachers find a good balance and can help the interpreter understand just where those boundaries are.
- Do not become the student’s “friend” and confidant. Even when a student has difficulty maintaining friendships with hearing peers, the educational interpreter is not a good substitute. The educational team should explore other alternatives.
- Do not be a mother. The student who receives interpreting services has something that no child wants – an adult at his/her side all of the time. The interpreter must be careful to not assume that if she/he sees it, she/he has to “fix” it.
- Respect the student’s right to make developmentally appropriate mistakes without constant adult correction. Mistakes are essential for learning, too.