Auslan-English interpreters work extensively in educational settings and interpret in classrooms ranging from primary through to tertiary education. Whilst there are similarities in how an interpreter will work at each level of education, each level (primary, secondary and tertiary) has its own distinct demands.

Interpreting in Primary Education
First and foremost, the age of the deaf child significantly impacts upon how an interpreter will work in primary education.

A very young child, in Prep, Grade 1 and perhaps even Grade 2 will most likely have little to no experience with interpreters. Even if interpreters have been used with the child, children at this young age do not necessarily discriminate between the roles of an adult. This is true for all children, not just deaf children.

And so, this most likely will mean that the children in the classroom will not see an interpreter as any different to a teacher. Appropriate role distinction can be modeled but some common sense flexibility will be required to appropriately manage the interaction between the adults and the children in the classroom. The interpreter will need to work closely with the teacher to identify how to best manage and model the two differing sets of roles and responsibilities.

Assuming a child has had an interpreter working in his or her classroom since the beginning of primary education, by the time the child reaches Grade 3, s/he most likely will understand the distinction between interpreter and teacher.

Another important factor must be recognised in relation to deaf children of primary age is a factor that factor persists throughout a deaf child’s primary education. That is, with rare exception, the interpreter is the deaf child’s language model. This situation is unique to deaf children and occurs incidentally and unintentionally. Therefore, it is imperative that both the education system and the interpreter acknowledge this pivotal role and ensure that highly fluent and skilled Auslan-English interpreters are used.

For further information, see ASLIA Educational Interpreting Guidelines

Interpreting in Secondary Education
Interpreting in secondary education also has its own unique set of challenges. By the time a deaf child reaches secondary education, s/he will be familiar with the role of an interpreter and how interpreters work.

However, for many, the interpreting role in secondary education is still slightly different to how an interpreter works in the “wider world”. Much depends upon the school where the interpreter is employed, but it is not unusual for interpreters in secondary settings to take on responsibilities such as reporting back either to the classroom teacher – or if the school has a Deaf Facility – to the teacher(s) of the deaf employed in the Facility about the deaf student’s progress as well as any concepts with which the deaf student(s) may be struggling.

As well, there is also often a bond between the deaf student(s) and the interpreter(s) employed by the school because it is often the interpreter(s) with whom the student(s) can most readily communicate.

Secondary education also provides challenges for educational interpreters because, at this level, there is a breadth and complexity of subjects which may be different to the interpreters’ own educational experiences.

Finally, to a lesser extent than at the primary level, an educational interpreter does still serve as a language model for deaf students.

Interpreting in Tertiary Education
Interpreting at tertiary level of education is extremely diverse. Rarely are educational interpreters at the same institution throughout their working week or even interpreting with the same student throughout his or her course of study. Indeed, an educational interpreter at this level may find him or herself in a TAFE institute with a plumbing apprentice one day and at a university with a social work student the next.

The ideal is for the educational interpreter to have extensive knowledge of the course of study in which s/he will be interpreting. The reality is that this is often not so and this can create significant challenges for interpreters as they have to grapple with subject-specific knowledge and terminology as well as with each deaf student’s individual communication needs and preferences.