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In-Person Classroom Interpreting – for Both In-Person and Virtual Students

May 7, 2021 | Interpreter Education

by: Melanie Frye EIPA 4.1 - NIR Interpreter Coordinator

To say that 2020 and 2021 have been a challenge in educational interpreting would be a massive understatement. Of course, we know these are unprecedented times. In March 2020, most contracted interpreters with districts were cancelled for the rest of the school year. The 2020-21 school year began virtual, with most us of getting back to work and needing to create remote set-ups in our homes that not only complied with our respective agency standards but also, of course, the NAD-RID CPC.

Most districts are now operating a hybrid model, allowing parents to choose to send their students to in-person learning or to remain remote for the remainder of the school year. Some districts have designated teachers for the in-person students with others solely responsible for the virtual students while some expect one classroom teacher to teach a mixture of in-person and virtual students. In the latter, one classroom interpreter is also expected to interpret for both the in-person and virtual students as well.

This scenario can require acrobatic feats from the educational interpreter. It is difficult to split your attention three different ways: the classroom teacher, the in-person students, and the virtual students. It becomes an exhausting juggling act.

We will now explore some considerations that should be taken into account when interpreting in-person for both in-person and virtual students.


This can be tricky when needing to be seen/heard by students in the classroom, the classroom teacher, and students accessing the class online who are shown on a “Smart Board,” which is essentially a computer the size of a classroom white board. If the classroom teacher is hearing and students are Deaf, maintaining a usual interpreting position should work fine: located at the front of the classroom or near the teacher for the in-person students to be able to track your movement. In this situation, the “Smart Board” angled at the front of the room with the camera on top of it should work for the virtual students to be able to see/hear the teacher and interpreter, see the other students in the classroom, and allows the interpreter and teacher to monitor the students at home for back-channel feedback indicating understanding as well as raising hands for answering questions or asking them. If the classroom teacher is Deaf and the students are hearing, positioning consideration will be different. In this case, the interpreter is positioned at the back of the classroom during instructional time in direct eye contact with the classroom teacher. The hearing students in the classroom and on-line will not need to see the interpreter, but will need to be able to hear the voicing. The “Smart Board” should also be positioned in the back of the classroom (which does remove the possibility of using its digital white board components) so that the teacher can view the students clearly. This also means that the students in the classroom and on-line will not see each other or be able to interact much.

Additional technology needed:

This topic can vary depending on the set up for the classroom, but a more powerful, multidirectional microphone should be added to the set up to ensure that virtual students can hear all the vocalizing in the classroom whether it be by the interpreter or students answering orally in the room. USB extensions may also be needed to adjust the positioning of the camera or microphone connected to the “Smart Board.” It is also extremely beneficial for the interpreter to have a device compatible with the system the specific district uses to follow along with lessons, view digital material, and prep for the days ahead.

Mask vs. Face Shield:

As interpreters, we already know that a clear mask is expected for the best access of our Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing clients, but when it comes to being sure your mask not only protects you and those around you as well as allowing your voice to be able to be picked up by a microphone and heard by the virtual students, things get a little bit more interesting when selecting your facial covering. Most of the clear masks that only cover the nose and mouth fog easily, and although they are workable for shorter appointments such as doctor office appointments, they may not be the best option for full day use at a school assignment. Though they offer less protection against illness because of being open on three sides, a face shield doesn’t fog due to more air flow and blocks/muffles the sound less than a mask when needing to have voice picked up by a microphone.

Splitting attention between interpreting for in-person and virtual students:

It can be a challenge being in-person interpreting for a Deaf teacher with hearing students both in-person and virtual. Naturally, it is easier to pickup the clearer, louder sounds of the voices responding in the room as opposed to the digital, possibly muffled sounds of students responding verbally over the speakers in the “Smart Board.” Without conscious effort it is much easier for the ratio of responses interpreted to be more heavily weighted toward the in-person bunch. It is of high importance to help the virtual students feel as integrated as possible, even if that means working with the teacher to direct 50% of the questions only to those students learning from home, in order to give them the opportunity for their responses to be heard over the clearer voices in the classroom.


Clothing considerations may be different with a need to be on camera compared with not. Eyeglasses reflecting the classroom lights can cause glare on the camera, not allowing Deaf virtual students to fully see facial expression. Dark/contrasting colored tops are of high importance with the added layer of making sure that the color chosen doesn’t get distorted lighter than it actually is due to the camera. V-neck shirts should also be worn with caution as well, depending on the position of the interpreter in comparison to the camera. Shirts that may not normally be considered “too low” for 100% in person interpreting might become too low if the camera is positioned higher than the interpreter and angled downward to see the interpreter.

These, of course, are only some of the challenges and considerations for interpreting to some students in-person and some virtual. Many of these may be things of the past at the start of the next school year, but technology and knowing how to navigate it as an interpreter will be a part of our daily lives now, I believe, forever. It is a challenging time to be in education, as a teacher or an interpreter, but with each other’s support we can make this a successful experience for all involved.

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