Best Interpreting Practices for Education

May 4, 2022 1:45:00 AM | interpreting Best Interpreting Practices for Education

Learn how to interpret in schools and education settings. Here are the best practices for interpreting in education and schools

There is nothing better than seeing a child blossom and succeed. Global Interpreting provides educational Interpreters but not like it once did. At one time, we provided Sign Language Interpreters in urban, rural, and suburban districts in Southeast Michigan. Each of those areas had different needs and different issues. We were overseeing four counties, 4 to 8 districts, 10 to 22 or more schools, and 15 to 35 or more Interpreters each school year. It varied depending on the contracts and student population.  

Below are Global Interpreting and my top tips for having an interpreter in education.

Be Patient

Working in the educational setting takes a lot of skill on the part of the Interpreter. Children, especially the young K-8 ones, need the best we have. Their language is just developing and their language models need to be good language models. They are also difficult to understand because their language is just developing, so we need to have good Interpreters so that they are can understand the children in those settings and provide effective communication. I will say, not only is the certification of the interpreter important but the personality of the Interpreter as well. When you are working with children you absolutely must have a certain temperament. You must be patient and kind, yet you must be able to say "no" when appropriate. You cannot just look at the certification of an Interpreter and place them in a school, you must look at the person as well.

Provide a Space

The Interpreters should have a place at the school they can keep their belongings and books. Call it an office, prep room, locker room, call it whatever you want, they need to have a “hands down” room. “Hands down” is the term Sign Language Interpreters use for break time. Interpreters need a break during the day and they need a place to go. I had a space in the buildings that was just a little larger than a closet, but the Interpreters could call it home.

Breaks and Meal Time

This seems to always be an area of contention. If Interpreters are not paid, they may not stay in your building. If they are paid, they will stay in your building…do you want them available or not? The choice is yours. You must give them time to eat in the middle of the day if you do not pay them. If you pay them, they will have to figure out when to eat. (They will find some time, we always do.)

There will be times when you are paying them and they will not be interpreting. That’s just how it is. There are times when students take tests. You might want them available in the lunchroom, “just in case” and they may not always have to interpret something. You can’t have an Interpreter come and go like a yoyo. Mileage will kill you. Just accept that the Interpreter will have to sit there and read or do a puzzle or knit while you are paying them, but know that they are ready when needed.

Why are they reading or doing a puzzle or knitting or on their phone playing games while I am paying them? If they do not keep their brain active and it gets tired, they may not be ready to interpret when you need them. It is vital that they keep their brain busy and engaged. We used to provide our Interpreters with puzzle books, but now all of those puzzles are available on your phone, as are books. Everyone just uses their phone or iPad to do the same thing as paper books. So, allowing the Interpreter to use their phone or iPad should be done.


The Interpreter should be allowed to be in the same area of the room as the instructor. Ideally, the student should be able to see the Interpreter and Instructor at the same time. The Interpreter will generally sit in the room, so provide them with a chair. (If you are an elementary school, please provide an adult-size chair.)

Interpreters should be allowed access to the Teacher lounge (unless a union contract does not allow such access) and staff restrooms. They should be included on staff menus (some schools have staff menus with special pricing and special meals).

Off-Site Interpreting (Field Trips)

What can I say about field trips? I have argued about this so many times. Interpreters are considered auxiliary aides under the Americans with Disabilities Act if they are Sign Language Interpreters. If you are taking Sign Language Interpreters with you on a field trip you should NEVER pay an entrance fee for an Interpreter…ever. They should be happy you are paying for the Interpreter because technically the place you are visiting should be paying for the Interpreter.

If the place you are visiting hired the Interpreter, would they have asked the Interpreter they hired to pay a fee to enter before providing their services? NO. Therefore, you should NOT be paying an entrance fee for the Interpreters you bring with you.


If Teachers can give Interpreters information ahead of time to prepare for classes, that helps. This is almost a must for music, theatre, and high-level high school classes. Having a substitute folder for Interpreters ready with a building map and schedule is also a good idea, that way they know where to go and where other interpreters are if they need them.

Make sure Interpreters have a place to park in the staff parking lot and have a badge if one is needed. Include them in the phone tree for snow days or days off that are not included on the schedule. (The news doesn’t always get it right!)

You may want to hire an additional Interpreter for the IEP if the student will attend, or a different Interpreter for the IEP. Talk to your educational team and the Interpreter and see what the team (the Interpreter is part of the team) thinks. There are many reasons you would an additional Interpreter or a different Interpreter. You might want an additional Interpreter if the parents need an interpreter or if the student is attending but needs to get back to class. You may want a different Interpreter if the student has behavioral issues or issues with the Interpreter and you want someone fresh for the IEP. (These are just a couple of examples.)

The educational setting can be challenging but it can be very rewarding. I truly enjoyed working with the educational teams and the families we serviced. What is most important is that the children learn to be independent, capable, and meet their potential. I love seeing some of the children we interpreted for with their own children now, or in careers. They did the hard work. They have the success. We were but a small part of it…but I am glad we were of service.

Dawn Flanigan

Written By: Dawn Flanigan