I am a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing.
I am not a sign language interpreter.
Over the years I have encountered those who are confused about the difference between the two professions.
This has happened in both my professional and personal life. For folks unfamiliar with issues related to deaf culture or deaf education using the terms interchangeably is certainly understandable. Yet, the two call for distinct qualifications, demands and experience. They do not have to be mutually exclusive but the path towards certification in each is not the same.
My role as a teacher is similar to that of any other educator, only I use American Sign Language (ASL). I am also not a speech teacher - I am interested in putting forth ideas and concepts, in expanding how my students see the world, in developing positive attitudes, in fostering questioning, in supporting academic and emotional growth and independence and in helping each child reach the next level of development. I do this through lessons, conferences, hands-on experimentation, assessment, etc., the same as any teacher with hearing students. The mode of communication is the only difference.
Interpreters on the other hand are there to facilitate communication between people who do not share a common language. American Sign Language interpreters facilitate conversation between a hearing person and a deaf person.
Using the services of an ASL interpreter can take some getting used to if you are not familiar with it but these tips should help ease you into it.
None of this confusion really causes any damage. Adults figure out how to work with one another to get past barriers. However, damage is caused when deaf or hard of hearing children are placed in mainstream classrooms without access to the language.
I have spoken with teachers who simply do not know what to do when a deaf child is placed in their class. It takes time to figure it out and some simply don't have the time or the motivation for it, which brings me to my main point.
ASL interpreters in the classroom are not responsible for teaching. Their job is to interpret. The deaf child placed in a mainstream classroom with an interpreter has the right to the same education as all the other children in that class.
While I do not feel this is the least restrictive environment for the deaf child I know that it happens. It is my hope that those teachers will do their homework and educate themselves about effective practices. The following guidelines can serve as a starting point.