Teacher Stories: Dana Vander, Sign Language Interpreter, Sovereign Avenue Elementary School, Atlantic City, NJ

I primarily work with pre-k and kindergarten. I shadow teachers, and pretty much anything that is spoken, I need to put into sign, and everything my students sign, I need to put into voice. You learn to filter out other noises, and to focus on just the voice that is speaking. Sign language itself has its own grammar, its own syntax. A lot of people think it’s a word-for-word translation, but it’s really not. So for example, if you wanted to speak to a deaf person, and you walked up to them and you just said, ‘What’s your name?’ I would sign, (shows hand signs), ‘Your name, what?’

I became a sign language interpreter because it was available as an accepted language for my master’s degree at Georgian Court University, and I just fell in love with it. My first job was the School for the Deaf in Trenton, NJ. And I remember we had a musical production there for Grease, and I remember thinking, ‘This is so unique. This is so cool.’  I have worked in many districts, and the school I work for in Atlantic City is fantastic for working with deaf students. They are a Title I school, so anything I need, any resources, they are so good at providing.

This past year I had five students that I shadowed. I had one 6th grader, three pre-k, and one kindergarten. You become their voice, and you are facilitating communication at so many levels, and you and the student form a special bond. They really work with you, and through you, and if they need to express themselves, it is through you. The little ones, they just love you, but as they get older, they want to be your friend, and it is a fine line there while they are in school. But once they graduate, I have developed many long-lasting friendships.

My first ever student that I shadowed I was with for four years in high school. We are still in contact: we never lost contact. In fact she just messaged me and she is now 30 and at University in Australia, but she is back home and renting in Ventnor, and I am going to visit her at some point. She and I have traveled together, and have been to Ireland together. The bond is so amazing. It’s not like that for every student, but it is special when it does happen. I have had a student 10 years later ask me to interpret their sibling’s wedding. They said they have had other interpreters but their family really felt comfortable with me and so they asked me and that is so special to me.

  • Interview by Gregory Andrus.

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