The following was filmed on August 15th, 2022.
Thanks so much to my guest for joining me!
Dr. Leah Geer: Hello and welcome to my blog. Today I’m so excited to welcome a guest and I’ll let her introduce herself in just a moment. This is the English version of the blog. If you prefer to watch in ASL (or both), look above. Ok, that said, welcome! Go ahead and introduce yourself and tell us as much or as little background information about yourself.
Tobi Gordon: Thank you so much! Thank you for allowing me to join you for your blog. My name is Tobi Gordon [shows sign name, which is an ASL ‘T’ handshape making the sign for MUSIC]. For the past 11 years I’ve been working as an educational interpreter, but this year I decided to change and become a deaf education teacher. It’s exciting but I’m also nervous. In terms of my educational background, I have a bachelor’s in interpreting and master’s in deaf education. My interpreting certification is RID Ed:K-12 and what that means is that I have passed the EIPA written exam, earned above a 4.0 on the performance (I have a 4.6), and that I have a BA degree.
I recently passed all of my teaching certification exams for Oklahoma, where I live.
TG: *hands waving* finally, yes! Well really I was concerned because I got my certification late and as a result my school district told me they’d only pay me as a substitute teacher. But [the certification] finally arrived and all’s well.
LG: What a relief!
TG: Yes, it’s fine. So anyway, I live here in Oklahoma and I’ve been married for 15 years. And that’s a bit about me!
LG: *thumbs up* Awesome. Thanks for sharing that. So what made you decide to transition to teaching after so many years as an interpreter? What sparked that feeling of, “I want a change!”
TG: You know, I never thought I wanted to teach; I only wanted to interpret. I loved it and wanted to focus on that. But around five years ago, I decided I wanted a master’s degree in educational interpreting. I searched and searched but couldn’t find a program with that focus. Then I thought about a degree in deaf ed because I think it’s important for educational interpreters to have a background in deaf education, a background in child development, in language development, speech development, and all that. From that point, I decided I’d teach myself a bit about these topics to help improve my skills.
Last year, my school district needed a new deaf ed teacher in their middle school program and I had finished my master’s in December (2021). So my district asked me if I was interested in that and offered me the job. And I thought, “Gosh I really want it!” I love interpreting but I also really enjoyed my education classes and I already know a lot of the same students because I’ve worked with them as an interpreter. So I thought, “What should I do? Teach or interpret? I’ll go ahead and teach!” And so far I’ve really been enjoying it.
I’ve always done a more teaching style of interpreting with kids because we know that direct communication would be ideal, and one learns more through direct instruction than through an interpreter, but I thought now I can use my language skills to [directly] teach deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students.
LG: That’s so cool! Thinking back a bit further now, what initially attracted you to ASL, to deaf culture? How did you become involved in that community as an aspiring interpreter?
TG: Perhaps my journey has been a bit odd. When I graduated high school and first went to college, my major was advertising, of all things. After a while, I decided I wasn’t a fan. Then, I changed my major to speech therapy. While I enjoyed it, at the time, I didn’t want a master’s degree, though I have one now…
LG: At the time, back in the day…
TG: Right! Back when I was 20, I didn’t want a master’s and you need a master’s to be an SLP. Then I took an ASL class and really enjoyed it and learning more about deaf culture, I wanted to learn more about that. But that school that I’d transferred to didn’t have any kind of interpreting or deaf ed program, nothing like that. So, I changed my major again to teaching.
It still didn’t feel like a good fit for me. So, I moved back home and went to hair-cutting school. After graduation, I worked as a stylist. One day, a client told me that they had a friend who was an interpreter. And I recalled really enjoying my ASL class, brief though it was. With that, I decided to sign up for the interpreter training program.
I remember walking into the first day of class thinking I was in the wrong place! Everything was in ASL only and I didn’t know the language yet. But I persevered and that was that.
LG: Wow, ok but wait back up. You did not yet know ASL, but signed up for an interpreting class.
LG: The whole class was in ASL, voice off, and you were just *deer in the headlights* not understanding a thing?
TG: Right. I was just completely lost.
LG: How did you keep up with everything, with the class? Just “fake it ‘til you make it?”
TG: Kind of yes! At first I thought “there’s no way I can do this,” right? I thought, “I don’t understand a thing,” but my teacher was so amazing! Really good. Really patient, too. Really patient and would act things out for me if needed, gesture if needed. And I would stay every day after class. I would go to the ASL lab and just stay there. I’d really practice my receptive skills. I worked with a tutor as well. I tried so hard. And then I became good friends with a deaf student there, who’d helped me so much. We’d hang out, socialize, and help each other.
LG: How long would you say from going into the class, everything going over your head to understanding what was going on and feeling a bit more comfortable?
TG: Well I feel like I wasn’t fully comfortable, no, but my estimate is about 2-3 months to where I started to feel like, “ok, I know what’s happening.” That really was a boost to my confidence! While I didn’t yet understand everything, I felt like I could do this. I can understand enough to get help. I knew my teacher would help; again they were so patient! But I really enjoyed it also because they helped me find that enjoyment [once I understood]. And at that point I just wanted to keep learning and developing my skills.
LG: That seems like good evidence in support of immersion programs.
LG: Really fast acquisition as a result of only having the option to practice receptive and expressive skills.
LG: No option, students have to figure out how to communicate
LG: That’s so cool! Awesome, but also potentially a bit of a frustrating experience, right?
TG: I feel lucky but I know some were frustrated and didn’t enjoy the experience. They wanted English voicing in class. But I think the best way to learn is immersion.
LG: So, you just started teaching middle school, 7th grade.
TG: Yep, 7th.
LG: 7th, ok. What do you feel like, so far, is the hardest thing about your transition from the interpreter role to the teacher role?
TG: So far, I feel like the toughest thing is planning. As an interpreter, I’d ask the teachers for prep so I could study in advance, but now I have to generate the content myself. Now it’s my thoughts, my teaching, not theirs. Before it was easy: just interpret their words, right? Now I have to think, “ok, what’s the best for this student, how do I really meet them where they are and plan it and teach it.” And I teach everything, math, science, English, social studies, so I have to plan for all of these! I’m always wondering, “was that good enough or wasn’t it?” So, the preparation part, that’s the hardest.
LG: Interesting. I see what you mean. I’ve heard a lot of interpreters say, for example, about public speaking, “oh no I don’t want to give a speech,” but they have no problem interpreting in front of a huge crowd. “It’s not my words, they said it, I’m just interpreting..”
LG: It’s interesting. Now you’re experiencing a different iteration of that. Ok, time for my last question for you. What advice do you have for those who want to become educational interpreters and those who want to become deaf ed teachers?
TG: For educational interpreters, my advice is to take education classes! My interpreting program did not focus on education, more community interpreting. I did happen to take one educational interpreting class but we learned SEE. So, my advice is to take an education class even if it’s not required. Also take language development if you can. Taking professional development for teachers can also be helpful with educational interpreting. It can help interpreters to understand why teachers are teaching certain things and why they’re doing so a certain way. That information can then be applied to your interpreting work. And find an organization like NAIE. I used to be on the board of directors for them. But they have a wonderful library of resources which can be very helpful.
Now for teachers: keep engaging and socializing with the deaf community. This will help your language skills. These kids need good strong language models. Interpreters do also but this is especially true for kids. I’ve noticed a lot of teachers don’t necessarily have great ASL skills and the kids depend on that to be able to apply their language to math, English, science, etc. Work with other members of the service delivery team, the interpreters, the speech-language pathologist, etc. Collaboration is key.
LG: That’s great advice and really in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “oh that fits with what advice I often give to students.” My program, Deaf Studies, is not an interpreting program and we’re not deaf ed – I hope we have a deaf ed program one day, but today’s not that day. We provide a foundation in language and culture. When students graduate, they could go into an interpreting program or a deaf ed program, but this program doesn’t prepare students for those specific professions. Sometimes I ask students what they want to do in the future and if they say they want to be an interpreter, I say, “know you should take a language development course…” among other courses. I often recommend a child development minor. Many students are in shock because they think it’s perfect but hadn’t thought of it before. My recommendation is the same for those who want to be interpreters or teachers. [TG: agreeing] I say, “the child development minor is awesome,” and also it’s in the same department, which is nice. I can easily tap a colleague and say that I have some Deaf Studies students interested in their course and do they have any seats for them.
Thank you so much for your time…
TG: Thank you for having me!
LG: I’m so happy you could join me today and that’s all, thank you so much!
TG: Thank you for having me!