The good, the bad, and the not-so-tech-savvy
By Alina Avelar Roque
On the morning of March 13, 2020, Anaheim Elementary School District, where I’ve been working for over five years as an interpreter/translator, held an emergency board meeting to vote on suspending in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That same day, all students were sent home with materials, including a Chromebook, in anticipation of distance learning and staff were also directed to work remotely. Two weeks later, we were preparing for what we now realize would be our new normal. It’s been over 250 days since I’ve stepped foot in our offices, and while I love working from home, this new work format has come with its fair share of challenges and learning opportunities.
During the initial stages of distance learning, we relied on video conferencing platforms like Kudo and Zoom, but after careful consideration of necessary features, the district decided on G Suite and Google Meet as the most suitable platforms for our school district. After all the preparations, we were ready for our first Google Meet School Board Meeting.
Remote interpreting presented us with a variety of challenges. Our first obstacle was the issue of muting. As people called into our interpreting channel, rather than logging in online, their telephone mics were not muted. By familiarizing ourselves with the different Google Meet features and settings, we were able to make sure we were the event organizers; that let us mute other participants. This solution was quickly offered by an indispensable member of the virtual meeting team, our IT person. Having access to an IT person for support was essential. Additionally, having at least two interpreters during the meeting was vital. While one interpreter was assigned to mute, check sound, check the number of people listening, look up terms, etc., the other interpreter interpreted. Then, we’d switch.
Another challenge was that during remote interpreting on Google Meets, we could only see the presenter or the slides, but not both. This made us realize that as interpreters, we needed to figure out our best technology set-up. Multiple devices were a must. We needed one for the slides, one for the video conferencing platform, and ideally, one to be in contact with our fellow interpreter team member. As staff interpreters, that is not something most of us already had set up at home. Our district, however, made sure to support us with technology by offering a Chromebook or extra monitors. Also, having Google apps installed on our smartphones made everything function more smoothly.
The ability to remain flexible during these constantly evolving times easily helped us adapt and focus on the solutions to these challenges rather than the problems they represented.
Most recently, we have been facing the very real challenge of fatigue over too many hours of interpreting over video conferencing platforms. Now more than ever, we recognize the importance of self-care. Our weekly wellness check-ins with our department directors and staff have allowed us to continue enjoying camaraderie with our team while also having the chance to voice our concerns.
Furthermore, having a local group of fellow school district staff interpreters/translators at the Orange County Department of Education Consortium with Natalia Abarca and the OCDE Annual Translators and Interpreters Conference, has created a community that we are all a part of.
This life-changing turn of events has made best practices for educational interpreters and translators even more necessary. The ITE Workgroup (now AAITE) started this national conversation in September 2019, and is now going full speed ahead, connecting with people in the field in order to address even more challenges and opportunities to support one another. The Best Practices document we developed is our latest collaboration.
Prior to school dismissal, our district had the privilege of offering a 40-hour community interpreter training program to our bilingual staff. Now, my fellow licensed trainer, Mary Madrigal and I, with the support of our directors and assistant superintendent, provide the course remotely. Challenges such as figuring out how to make this program interactive and engaging and adding technology in the mix were a task in themselves. Nevertheless, despite the remote option, this program has been fundamental in terms of being able to collaborate with our bilingual staff on how to best provide our students and their families with the essential service of language access. As we help people communicate effectively using new technology, we are essentially providing communicative autonomy, and that’s what we strive for!
Mister Rogers once said, “Some days, doing ‘the best we can’ may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect on any front and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else.” As we look back on 2020 and all the innovations we have had to adapt to, we’ve also come to understand that technology isn’t perfect. However, we appreciate what it has to offer and have challenged ourselves to take on these struggles as new learning opportunities. Reflecting on the good, the bad, and the not-so-tech-savvy, I would say we have been very successful in accepting each challenge and embracing the opportunity to learn new skills in service of our Spanish-speaking students and their families.
 The responsibility for, and control over, one’s own communication.
Alina Avelar Roque is an English<>Spanish Translator and Interpreter at the Anaheim Elementary School District and recipient of the 2019 Multilingual Award of Distinction from the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE). She holds a BA in Spanish Language and Global Cultures from the University of California in Irvine. Alina is also a licensed The Community Interpreter® program trainer.
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