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From one interpreter to another: sometimes you just have to back yourself

By Kieta Philp

When I first studied to be an interpreter, we were taught to 'be invisible'. We were the person in black, meant to stay in our 'box', and our sole function was to bridge the communication gap between deaf people and hearing people. Of course, it wasn’t long into my school career that I found there was far more to it than that.

It is difficult to remain detached or emotionless when you have a legislated and genuine duty of care for the students. In my role at Shenton College, I am responsible for the organisation of interpreters and note takers. As stressful as organising 20 professionals can be, there is one area of the job that is particularly challenging: the judgement calls.

Part of my role is to provide a sounding board for staff to discuss certain dilemmas, ethical or otherwise, they have come across in the course of their duties. Obviously protecting the confidentiality of our students, their families, our teachers and interpreters is at the forefront of each discussion we hold. It is, however, important that everybody in our school community has an outlet to discuss the various issues that they encounter along the way.

Examples of issues that may arise could be: a teacher showing a video without captions, various distractions while in the classroom, a student that does not look at their interpreter, a teacher that is too lenient or too hard on a student…the list goes on and I am sure interpreters in educational environments have all been in situations like this before.

At Shenton College, we discuss and debrief these issues in weekly team meetings, making use of the team environment we work in. Amongst our team we are fortunate to have a wealth of diverse knowledge and life experiences, which we draw upon to try to come to a solution.

This enables us to give the best experience we can to our students before they leave to make their mark on the world. This is also beneficial to staff as a way to de-stress and additionally learn methods, as a team, to deal with any situations we may have to face through the school year.

Often though, given the many different scenarios and time constraints that we find ourselves in, sometimes we need to make an individual judgement call. We are all human, and sometimes we will make mistakes but I believe that when you are faced with the daunting prospect of having to make a judgement call, you simply have to back yourself.

Do what you think is right, and then seek support afterwards by following up with a colleague or fellow ASLIA member. We have all been trained in ethics and it is important we trust in our training. We need to remember that there is plenty of support out there for interpreters. We are all in this together and should never feel we are alone.

Kieta has been interpreting on a full-time basis in secondary education for the past six years. She holds a Diploma of Interpreting and a Diploma of Auslan from Central TAFE and is accredited by NAATI at the paraprofessional level. In addition to this, she undertakes casual community interpreting work. Kieta has travelled extensively, providing her with experiences and knowledge of other cultures and races. This article was originally published in the ASLIA e-update and is reproduced with permission.