Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ode to a Career

I was hit by a lightning bolt, and that is how I became a Sign Lanugage Interpreter.

It wasn't real lightning. It was in 1974. I lived in a place similar to a dorm, alongside several Deaf college women. I didn't know one single sign, but I had seen it around me and thought it was beautiful and "musical." I awkwardly began learning a few signs from my dorm-mates.

I had never heard of the profession of interpreting, but I attended a dorm meeting, and there was an interpreter, signing the goings-on for the Deaf women in attendance. That's when the lighting bolt hit.. "I'm going to do that!" I thought to myself. And I kept that dream firmly in my mind until I FINALLY got to start in the career 9 years later.

Back then, interpreter training had just expanded from a six-week program to a six-month program. Nowdays that is a laugh. Our local program will soon be a four-year degree program. I got into the six-month program and loved it. Finished the course and immediately got a job working in a high school. Who knew I would stay with that school district for 27 years and retire from there?? Certainly not me. I thought I'd eventually get a "real" job and move on from educational interpreting.

Guess what... I loved educational interpreting! It IS a real job! It is very demanding, exhausting, exhilarating, fun, varied, energizing, amazing, and unpredictable. I loved it for those reasons as well as the following:
1) I got to be in on everything, yet not be in charge.

2) I was in the presence of so much amazing information, cool people, and awesome language.

3) I never knew where I would end up or what might come up and where I would need to go to do the interpreting. I was in classrooms, offices, clinics, theaters, athletic fields, locker rooms, government agencies, buses, airplanes, business meetings, IEP meetings, staff meetings, medical appointments, swimming pools, universities, on TV, bowling alleys, bathrooms, tournaments, demonstrations, hallways, closets, corners, stages, in the presence of famous people... on and on and on.

4) Interpreting keeps my brain active.

5) Interpreting is always a huge challenge and almost always loads of FUN, too.

6) Interpreting seems impossible... and yet we do it, everyday.

7) I have worked with teachers, principals, secretaries, social workers, psychologists, audiologists, landlords, occupational therapists, intervenors, advocates, parents, siblings, guardians, police, doctors, guest speakers, mechanics, postal workers, physical therapists, lawyers, bus drivers, janitors, the students' peers, theater directors, dance instructors, musicians, actors, ski instructors, coaches for just about every sport, referees, TV reporters... you name it.

8) I met students who blow my mind. They are highly intelligent. They struggle to understand basic concepts. They are curious. They have language delays. They are wise beyond belief. They are tall, short, skinny, fat, athletic, multiply-physically-challenged. They are from the town where I live and work. They are from another state. They are from other countries. They have no one at home who can use their langauge. Their whole family knows sign language. They are ASL experts. They are strong, independent. They live amidst chaos. Their lives are stable. They are happy, sad, wise, beautiful, shy, confident, maturing, questioning, struggling, discovering, figuring out the world, living, and dying. I love each and every one of them.

My heart has been broken umpteen times. I have interpreted through difficult situations, held it together, and when it's done, burst into tears. I have cried while interpreting, fallen asleep while interpreting (seems impossible, but yes, I did it), giggled while interpreting, farted while interpreting, and had bodily fluid emergencies while interpreting (TMI? Sorry). I have experienced and witnessed joy, laughter, boredom, sorrow, fascination, anger, angst, worry, empathy, exhilaration.

I wish I could name for you and show pictures of all the fabulous students I remember, but I can't invade their privacy. It was always a joy to watch them learn and grow, make decisions, and become such wonderful adults with families, jobs, degrees higher than my own, or none of that, but still they are fabulous.

I have been extremely blessed to have spent a career in this wonderful field of interpreting, working with this beautiful language which I still consider "musical", and working with so many awesome students.

Here's the great news: I don't have to totally leave! I will be working, very occasionally and when I choose to (that's the FUN part), as a sub, still interpreting in a high school.

So, life is moving into a fun and exciting chapter! I'm truly blessed.


True Blue Nana said...

I worked with some interpreters and there were good ones and not so good ones. I bet you were one of the good ones. As a teacher I always appreciated the good ones, so helpful and compassionate.

Beth said...


HummingMountain said...

Carol, you are a special special person! Congratulations on your "retirement" ... I just can't see the usual definition of that word applying to you! ... and best of luck with whatever you take on in the future!

Trish said...

Congratulations!!! I have always been fascinated by ASL. My daughter took an ASL class in high school....lucky girl-wish it had been me.....

AnnieO said...

As a partially deaf person (I have had 98% hearing loss in one ear since I was about 3 years old), I have always been fascinated by ASL. What a terrific career you have had. Definitely seems to have suited your personality to be so active and involved in students' lives all these years. I'm glad you get to keep your "hands" in! Congratulations on a wonderful working life. 27 years is amazing.

Liz said...

Congratulations a thousand times. What an incredible career!!!

lesthook said...

How cool! I learned a few basics when I was 12 cause a cute boy in my neighborhood was deaf.I still remember his name. Jerry.

Pat said...

Congratulations on the finish of one phase of your life and your starting another. Sounds like your life has been full of many challenges (blessings in disguise) that many don't get to experience. Would loved to have worked with you on a professional level. Kudos my dear internet friend! Hugs, Pat

Jan Mac said...

It sounds like interpreting was a very important part of your life in service to others and I hope that you find other fun ways to "serve" during your retirement. I use my quilting skills and I'm sure that you will find these to be equally as rewarding.
Love and hugs for the next stage of your life
Jan Mac

Nanci said...

what a wonderful life story you have! I've often thought how people come to that path in their life that defines what their career will be. Yours was one that gave back! Thanks for sharing.

quiltmom said...

Congratulations Carole,
Happy happy retirement- may you find yourself surrounded by good friends sharing good times . Most of all enjoy good health and find yourself fulfilled.

I have worked with young children as a kindergarten teacher for 32 years. I soon will be retirement age but am not quite ready to retire yet. Earlier in my career. I worked with hearing impaired kids using signed english. I still love being a k teacher- they make me laugh regularly.

Have a fantastic retirement.

ROZ said...

What a wonderful story. You should consider writing some sort of book! Best wishes for the future!

Elaine Adair said...

BIG congratulations! You made it! 8-))) Now, your 'next life' begins - enjoy!

I liked your ode, especially about "being in on everything, but didn't have to make decisions"! That's MY kind of job.

Sweet P said...

You had a wonderful job. You touched the lives of so many young people and helped them become adults. Kudos to you!

woolywoman said...

Wow! Sign is such a cool looking language. I work with interpreters sometimes at my job, but most of them are hearing children of Deaf parents.I've only met one that learned, like you, after a lightning bolt moment. Thank you for writing such a wonderful tribute to your profession! And, consider volunteering at your local hospital, because the Deaf population can really struggle when hospitalized.