Educational interpreting is a paradox. More specifically, E-12 (early childhood education through 12th grade) interpreting is a paradox. In many states, in fact, I can’t think of an exception, it is easier in a legal and human resources sense, to interpret in E12 environments than it is to interpret a physical therapy appointment. The pay, qualifications, and mindset of (some) interpreters does not appropriately match the situation in which they are working.
The consumers and the message. On a superficial level, primary or secondary educational topics are easy for many adults to comprehend (after all, nearly all of us attended those programs as a child) thus it is easy to interpret. When you dig deeper, and you find that your consumer, a child, is quite vulnerable. Not only in the mandated reporter lens (this is one of the few times interpreters would be mandated reporters, by the way), but also with language and self-advocacy for communication access needs. The child does not have as much pre-knowledge to vet an interpretation that might typically raise flags if something seems off with the produced message. The child sees the interpreter as an adult, as an authority figure, and assumes the interpreter is correct.
The next level to peel back is the issue of pay. Since many states do not require certification (but, many do require an evaluation score on the Boys Town EIPA of 3.0, 3.5, or 4.0 or higher instead of a certification), many newer interpreters flock to the educational interpreting field as a stepping stone. While many professional interpreters may scoff at $18 to $27 an hour (although, most are employees in this environment so that pay does not tell the whole story), newer interpreters would gladly take that pay over competing entry-level jobs or retail work.
There are a few more layers here – since educational interpreting pays less than medical, legal, VRS/VRI, and community interpreting, it attracts a particular type of interpreter. Simultaneously, because of the pay, when newer interpreters become seasoned, they know they can quickly transfer to other fields with higher rates of pay. This, in effect, can function as a paid internship. We are not always providing our best to children who desperately need it.
How can we have our best interpreters working with the consumers who need the absolute best interpreters? Interpreters function not only as communication access accommodations but also as language models. The more fluent an interpreter is, the more a signing deaf child can progress in their fluency. Similarly, a less fluent interpreter caps the fluency potential for a mainstreamed deaf child.
When considering policy or system-level changes, don’t forget, we need solutions that work in rural, suburban and urban environments.
These are general observations about trends in educational interpreting. There are fabulous interpreters who are qualified, skilled and talented. If you are one of these interpreters, then this is not about you! I have worked in primary, secondary and college environments for several years. I also provided interpreting services for ECE to colleges for several years in the agency role and observed these systems from that lens