Did I Do That Right?

Annescia Dillard
Administrative Support, Center for Teaching Excellence

In my work as a freelance ASL interpreter I am able to supervise sign language interpreting students. In one particular instance, the following occurred…

I watched the student as they began to grow increasingly agitated with each word the speaker uttered. Flustered and appearing mentally exhausted, the student glared at their hands, as they didn’t seem to work. I, while observing, thought “man why are they getting so worked up? This is practice; there is no client relying on this information and it does not count for a grade.” Then it dawned on me. I too was once interpreting in a live setting and felt I had no business being there, that my hands “didn’t work”. Why couldn’t I just get it right? I looked back at the student who was now even more visibly frustrated and signed “Switch?” The student nodded and stopped signing allowing their partner to take over. I watched as tears welled up in their eyes… I was devastated. Had I just made things worse? Was this not the appropriate response? When the student resumed interpreting and continued for the duration of the assignment they seemed better, they achieved a bit more confidence and did not exhibit any more signs of breaking down.

As a standard, the students and myself debrief after a session and talk about the content and their overall interpretation. I made a point to tell the emotional student that my suggestion to have them switch was merely to have them take a break, not to be punitive. Before I could explain myself fully the student nodded profusely and thanked me. I felt relieved. I realized that my anxiety about the appropriate response was unnecessary, as it was just what they inevitably needed. I had once been in their shoes, so I had some understanding of what they were experiencing.

Providing feedback can seem intimidating especially to our colleagues and sometimes our students. We’ve learned the impact of timely and thoughtful feedback in that it is highly effective. It’s important to note that every situation is different; we may do it well or completely miss the mark. Nevertheless, we have to use empathy and trust ourselves – it usually leads us in the right direction.