Every classroom, program, and class of students has a culture. It is not something the faculty can completely control. We can however influence it because of our roles as leader in the learning environment. We introduce curricula and decide how it will be introduced and what activities will support it. With this in mind I have learned that setting the following cultural facets cultivates a fertile and positive learning environment by setting a culture of:
• There is more than one right answer – interpreting is not an exact science in many ways. Cognitive processing, linguistics and language acquisition have more mathematical tendencies than analyzing translation activities for idiomatic interpretations. All of them still have more than one effective way to approach each. This outlook guides students away from the simple “right/wrong” model of learning and forces them to work more creatively to explore what the right answers might be and in what situations.
• Responsibility – Modern society and popular culture are – possibly unintentionally – promoting the concept of entitlement. In the college setting this is leading to an underlying attitude of “I paid my tuition and fees, therefore I paid for a degree” for a growing number of students. I have seen this come to the forefront when I enforce expectations clearly spelled out in the syllabus that individual students find inconvenient for whatever reason. Setting a culture of responsibility for everyone makes it much more possible to analyze each situation and respond accordingly by helping students see the differences between reasons and excuses. I model this in my teaching by admitting my own mistakes and correcting them as I discover them.
• Teaming – The business world is stressing team players. The interpreting world is no different. As research into successful interpretations continues, it becomes clearer that well-communicated tandem interpreting brings the most clear interpreting results. Using pedagogy that stresses supporting one another as well as asking for help rather than competition helps set that expectation. Instructing students in teaming theories of interpreting reinforces this.
• Mentoring – There are other professions that have a long history of apprenticeships and mentorships. The most notable that is still in existence is the medical field. Tenet number five of the RID’s Code of Professional Conduct demands that interpreters mentor when it is appropriate. Setting a culture of learning through mentorships provides students with the expectation that learning happens from multiple sources in and out of the classroom. It also instills the responsibility that as they are being mentored that they have the duty to give back in the same way as a mentor when they have gained the skill, experience, and knowledge to do so.
• Life-long learning: The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf has set rules for continuing education through its Certification Maintenance Program. Unfortunately many interpreters attend these events grumpily with the intent of “serving their time” and earning their units. Using the same analogy of medicine, new research and technology makes old theories either obsolete or adds to them in significant ways every few years. This means that if interpreters do not keep learning throughout their careers that they will find themselves with stagnating skills. The classroom in an IEP is the place to plant the seed that IEP is the first step in the long education process of the interpreter. I as both an instructor and an interpreter can model this by making my own continuing education transparent to my students. In the same vein I also stay active as a working interpreter and keep that transparent as well.
• Duty of service to the Deaf community – The Deaf community opens itself up to us and puts itself at risk by sharing its language, culture and personal stories to teach us enough so we can have fluency and positive attitude enough to successfully interpret and have rapport with the populations with whom we are working. With this in mind, we have a duty not to disappear after we become interpreters and begin interpreting. I encourage students to continue volunteering in the Deaf community by working on community boards, attending events and being a part of the community as an ally where appropriate.
Woven into this culture setting, I believe in fostering a sense of safety. It is vitally important that students feel safe to open themselves up enough to make the mistakes they need to make to identify what they need to work on. I seek to achieve this safe learning environment by encouraging questions of all kinds, discouraging competition, and listening to all student concerns. I will not tolerate students shaming one another for the level of learning they are at, yet they are free to ask non-judgmental questions to one another to guide self-discovery – which is my main way of answering questions as well.
In order to maximize this, students must know how they learn. This means understanding what kinds of learning styles exist, and where they fit into them. I encourage students to find out what learns for them and not only use those techniques, but keep an open dialogue with me, other teachers, and fellow students as they work together. The more learning styles I can speak to as I teach, the more complete a picture I build for everyone to access as we explore together.