HIS Sign spotlights ASL interpreter Jennifer Cranston. Jennifer’s story regarding her journey to becoming a sign language interpreter has an unlikely start. In seventh grade, she knew she wanted to teach English. Once she was introduced to sign language, by way of a supervisor at a religious retreat while a sophomore in high school, Jennifer altered her future goals to include that of teaching English to a specialized population: Deaf and hard-of-hearing students. So sure of this path, she started learning sign language at night through community adult education classes while in her last three years of high school. Jennifer earned her bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education PreK-12 and Elementary Education K-6 from Flagler College and was awarded her M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction from George Mason University (GMU).
Jennifer taught English to Deaf and hard-of-hearing students in a Deaf Education Program at a middle school in the Fairfax County School System for eight years before working in the English Department at Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) on the Gallaudet University campus. A few years later, Jennifer made a career change into the field of Interpreting, where she holds NIC-Advanced, RID K-12, & EIPA 4.4 certifications.
Currently, Jennifer is a student in the PhD Interpretation program at Gallaudet University and is an itinerant staff educational interpreter with Prince William County Public Schools. In addition, she interprets for George Mason University and INOVA Hospitals. Jennifer enjoys presenting at workshops and mentoring other interpreters. She has been in the fields of Deaf Education & Interpreting for almost two decades. Specifically, her interpreting experience includes K12, post-secondary, medical, mental health, community, and video relay settings.
Jennifer is a regular guest presenter for the ESOL Graduate Education Program at GMU and was the recipient of a PCRID presentation scholarship. She has presented at various conferences, including Silent Weekend, TESOL, and PCRID. Jennifer resides in Northern Virginia and enjoys family time with her husband, nine year-old son, and five year-old daughter. Jennifer is excited her family is growing, as she is expecting another daughter in early December.
HIS Sign caught up with Jennifer to get her thoughts on her career and the interpreting field.
What inspired you to become an ASL interpreter?
I never anticipated my professional journey would include playing the role of interpreter. Having spent ten years as a Deaf Education teacher, I had always been on the other side, if you will. My limited interactions with educational interpreters took place when I team taught general education English classes, in which some of my Deaf and hard-of-hearing students were placed. Year after year, I watched my students work so hard in my self-contained English classes, as they tried to earn their place in the mainstream. All their work would be in vain, if not for qualified educational interpreters to provide access for them. Experiencing this revelation pushed me to pursue the necessary credentials to become an educational interpreter in order to ensure equal access for these students.
What are some of the differences you see in the interpreting field today compared to when you first started?
When I started teaching over a decade and a half ago, there weren’t many standards in place regarding interpreters that worked in the public school setting. Over the years, it has been quite refreshing to see this change. The advent of the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA) seems to have had a tremendous impact in this area. Many public school systems are now establishing minimum EIPA score requirements for interpreters wishing to be employed in an educational setting. As such, a promising trend evident as interpreters challenge themselves to meet and exceed these new standards.
Can you share with us an interesting moment or event that happened to you on an interpreting job?
While I have interpreted in many and varying settings, my fondest memories tend to be of experiences while interpreting in public school classrooms. It would be very difficult for me to choose one particular moment. Instead, I prefer to describe the common thread that unites these moments. I guess it can be best described as witnessing the ‘ah-ha’ moment. As a teacher, I constantly strived for the instant I could see the evidence of understanding in my students’ eyes. I found this to be the case, as well, when I switched to interpreting. Even though I am no longer the originator of the concepts and information being taught, the message being conveyed is of utmost importance to me. When I’m able to spot this incredible phenomenon of something ‘clicking’ for my clients, the students, it becomes quite a memorable moment for me.
What advice would you give to aspiring ASL interpreters?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there before actually putting yourself out there. By this I mean video tape yourself regularly to see what others see. It’s amazing what subtleties you can catch and correct, if necessary, yourself once you’re aware they’re happening. In addition, don’t be afraid to solicit helpful comments and suggestions from other interpreters whom you trust and respect. I would also highly recommend working with a mentor. While going to workshops can be beneficial, I have found no substitute for the one-on-one, personalized feedback that results from working with a qualified mentor. My final recommendations are to get involved with the Deaf community and get educated. The value of having a solid foundation in the core of your profession cannot be underestimated. And always remember to not take yourself too seriously while progressing through your learning curves – it’s much more fun that way!