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As a teacher new to the field of deafness, you may never have had the experience of teaching with an interpreter at your side. In the beginning, this new experience may seem a bit strange, but adjustment to the situation will be easier if you bear in mind the following guidelines:
  1. You will be communicating with the deaf/hard of hearing individuals through another person who will be transforming the spoken word into the language of signs.

  2. The interpreter will need to adjust to your pace and sometimes it will be necessary for you to adjust to the pace of the interpreter. Usually the interpreter will ask you either to stop momentarily, repeat, or slow down. This is to insure that the deaf/hard of hearing students receive your message in full.

  3. Generally, the interpreter will stand either to your left or to your right. This enables the student to maintain eye contact with both you and the interpreter. This is most important for good student-instructor rapport.

  4. Wherever the interpreter stands, there must be good lighting available.

  5. In using demonstration and visual aids, it is important for the instructor to allow extra time for students to see what is being demonstrated as well as to see what is being said. With hearing students, you can turn your back to the class and simultaneously elaborate a point as you demonstrate. With deaf students, this is not possible, since the deaf student must turn his attention from the interpreter to the chalkboard to see what you are demonstrating and then go quickly back again so that he will not miss the explanation.
    The best way to handle this is, first, to be more explanatory as you go over the points on the board, avoiding such vague references as "this" or "that". Second, pause more often as you speak, trying as much as possible to maintain eye contact with the students. Finally, watch the interpreter as he attempts to draw attention to specific items. Do not force him to stop signing, turn his head, and grasp what you have indicated in order to put it across to the student.

  6. When using an overhead projector, slides, video tapes, and/or films, it is sometimes necessary to either reduce the lighting or turn off the lights completely in the classroom. In such situations, it is important to provide a small lamp or spot to focus on the interpreter while discussion or explanation takes place. Your interpreter can usually assist you in setting up special effects when necessary.

  7. Sign language does not contain signs for every word in the English language and it is particularly lacking in specialized jargon. Usually the interpreter will have to fingerspell such words using a manual alphabet. Often the interpreter will also be asked to pause and define the term. It is most helpful if you can jot down specialized jargon on the chalkboard or give it to the interpreter before class so both he and the student do not misunderstand the concept.

  8. Question and answer periods will pose no problems. If the student is unable to vocalize his question, he will need to sign the question to the interpreter and the interpreter will then need to vocalize the question to you. The answer will need to again pass through the interpreter to the student. It is important at all times that the other students know who is speaking. This is best handled through pauses and direction on your part.

  9. Hearing students can take notes while listening to a speaker. Deaf students cannot because they need to focus their attention upon the interpreter. When topics of importance are being discussed, an outline prepared in advance is most helpful.
    It is useful for the instructor and the interpreter to become acquainted at the beginning of a course. At that time, questions involving these guidelines and other points may be clarified. The instructor is always the instructor; the interpreter, merely his "voice".

Source: Willard J. Madsen
Last Updated: May 3, 1996

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Last updated 12-22-99