Note from Uncle Dale: Mentoring, If I Do This Right I’m Out Of A Job, RID Views (Spring 2018) #UncleDalesVIEWS

A teacher teaches you something you didn’t already know.

A mentor helps you realize how much you do know.

A teacher instructs you on a principle or skill.

A mentor helps you to figure out how to apply it.

A teacher gives you a grade.

A mentor gives you a perspective…

I am both a teacher and a mentor and despite what I said above the VERY end goal of both jobs is the same. I want you not to need me. If I do my job correctly, I will teach you more than just skills and applications. If I do this right, I will have instilled in you a love of the process and a desire to improve your abilities because you love to, not because you have to. Most importantly, I will have helped you develop the internal structure and foundation so you know how to continue learn, to teach yourself, when I am gone. In order to be the best mentor I can be, there are some things that both you and I have to clearly understand.


The whole reason we are meeting is to develop your skills. If you could produce a perfect interpretation, you would not need me. (I, on the other hand, would love to make an appointment to have you mentor me!) You should not be shy or embarrassed to show me your work. That is why I’m here. If you hold back, I can’t get a good read on your cur- rent levels – in other words, I can’t evaluate what I don’t see.

Don’t apologize at the beginning or the end of an exercise. You don’t have to. I’m not offended by gaps in your skill sets. Don’t stop in the middle of an exercise to tell me you messed up. (Psst. Big secret? I know when you messed up… I can see it.) Just take a breath in through your nose and out through your mouth and move on. Once again, that is why we are here!

Don’t worry about screwing up in front of me! Take risks. Be creative. If you are going to be wrong, be definitively wrong! I will pull you back if you are getting too far out there. If you play it safe the whole time, you will just pro- duce the same work, and therefore the same errors, over and over. Keep this in mind: no matter what happens in this interpreter lab, there is ZERO POSSIBILITY that anyone will go to the morgue or that anyone will go to jail. It is my job to make sure you succeed in your work. (Because the client trusted me enough to agree to have you come to her work or doctor’s appointment or other meeting. She trusted me enough to agree to let you learn while she lives. I will NOT let either of you down.)


I am not competing with you so don’t try to compare yourself to me. Unbalanced comparisons lead to hopelessness. Let me put that another way. I’m better than you at inter- preting (at least right now). If I wasn’t, you would have no reason to want me to mentor you. But I do not have more inborn ability than you. Any natural talent I may have started with has ceased to be important a long time ago (I will explain that in a minute). What I do have is time invested in doing this work. If you are just starting out, I could have very close to 30 years of experience more than you. (Wow, that made me choke just a little… I’m so old.) It’s not about talent. Talent gets you two years of people saying “Oh you are so talented” and after that, people want to see skill. So, I am better than you, but not because I have more ability. I just have more practice.

Don’t get discouraged if it looks easy for me. The operative word in that sentence is “looks.” It’s never easy, even for me. What looks like ease is the application of years of interpreting things just like this. I have a full toolbox to choose from and I will help you build yours! You must always remember that behind my smooth production and calm eyes there is a massive amount of mental dancing happening!


I send students out to work with experienced interpreters and sometimes when they come back, I hear, “She is so great at interpreting! I will NEVER be that good!” Don’t do that. She was not born interpreting like that. She had to work to get there. As you are now, that highly skilled and experienced interpreter once was, and as she is now, you may someday be – if you put in the work and time. She didn’t get there by rubbing a lamp or answering a wizard’s riddle or winning the lottery. She tried and failed and got up and dusted off and tried again. If you knew how many times she failed, you would know how dangerous it is to put her on a pedestal. Every time she fell down on her journey she got back up.


My job is to help you to stand up when you stumble until you can stand up without me. If I do my job right, you will call me long after you have become that skilled, experi- enced, working interpreter to help you help the next gen- eration. My job as a mentor is to help you to become the mentor who comes after me.

Rule 548

No matter what Sign system your clients tend to use, a deep study of ASL (Read: BSL, LSF, Deutsche Gebärdensprache…) will help you produce it more eloquently.

The wisdom of Adam Bartley.

Note from Uncle Dale: Does Learning ASL Change You? Only If You Do It Right.

I teach a class called “Visual Linguistic Analysis.” It’s an interpreting class but we open it to Deaf Studies Majors generally.

It is in essence a Discourse Analysis class that focuses on analysis within context, within setting, evaluating cultural influence as well as markers within the language structure; not just what a person who is Deaf is saying, but how people who are Deaf make themselves understood and how settings and context influence the meaning. It’s fun. Seriously.

On the first day a have a speech (in an academic setting I really should call it a lesson plan) I use this speech to invite the scared to become the inspired. I tell them, “you are not Sign Language students, you are ASL Interpreting students now. You have all the vocabulary you need to interpret almost any topic thrown at you, and starting today we are gonna to convince your brain of that fact.” I spend a lot of time in the class trying to help them understand that vocabulary is only one component of meaning.

We then look at a video of a native ASL user telling a story. When it’s finished I ask, “what was the story about.” Without fail the class consensus is, for example, “it’s about how some Deaf kids get into trouble but then get out of it ok.”

I then propose, “what if I told you that if I show this video to a native user of ASL that person will tell you this is a story about how being Deaf saved their lives? This is a story of Deaf-Gain.”

If I’m lucky I have a class dynamic that trust that I know what I’m talking about (side note: it always makes me chuckle when students are amazed at the insight I have into texts I have been using to teach these principles for 14 years. Um… I’ve seen them once or twice. That being said, last year I was using a text that I FILMED-MYSELF! in 1994 and a student said “the girl’s name is Jennifer…” I marked it as an ‘addition.’ My student challenged me and OH CRAP! she was RIGHT! For twenty-three years I have used this text in workshops and classes and NEVER ONCE did I notice that the presenter introduces the character in the story by name. I’ll just back slowly away from this parenthetical now).

As a class we then walk back, frame by frame, through the story and… boom it’s a story about how being Deaf saved their lives.

I then explain that this is the purpose of the class. The difference between their first understanding of the story and the deeper meaning of the story comes down to a processes they have yet to develop in their brains, visual cues their brains literally ignore. This class begins the process of restructuring their very brain configurations to incorporate the meaning of the visual nuance of ASL into their thought process.

In other words to teach them how to see ASL instead of Signs.

“If you do this right,” I tell them, “sometime around midterm your head will start to hurt. That is your brain physically rewriting itself to incorporate the demands of a three-dimensional visual language structure.”

It is my belief that learning ASL as a hearing person not only shifts the physical structure of your brain (Oliver Sacks would agree with me) it changes the very way you think.

That why I love the movie Arrival.

When I mention that we will be watching this movie in class many of my students get all “scrunch faced” and say, “an alien movie?” Their eyes roll so fast I fear it will lift them off their seats.

I tell them, “aliens are the framework used to tell the story, but the movie is about how language analysis, properly executed, saves the world.”

This gets the interest of a whole new level of nerds.

Arrival, if you have not seen it, is the story of what each hearing person who learns ASL experiences. If you watch this movie and don’t relate, you’re doing it wrong. But, maybe you do not realize the change ASL causes until you have watched the movie.

It is the story of learning not just what the aliens are saying, but of how they make themselves understood.

The main feature of the film for my purposes (and no I’m not giving anything away. Spoiler free!) is how learning the methods cultures employ to communicate changes the very structure of your brain, your mind, and as a result every aspect of how you think about and relate to the world.

Oh, and the parallels between Sign Language and the alien’s language are obvious to the point where the first time I saw the movie in a theatre the stranger sitting next to me whispered, “how is that possible?” To which I whispered back, “Sign Language.” He paused an said, a little too loudly, “oh, right, RIGHT!”

Watch the movie.

Until you do think about how ASL changes the way you think. In spoken languages the meta-concept of an “idea” is an abstract. In ASL it becomes a concrete.

If I want to give you “my opinion” in ASL I can physically hand it to you.

If I want to talk about a person who is not present I must make that person present, I must manifest that person physically in order to refer to them. In essence I can never talk about someone without the person about whom I wish to speak being, in one form or another, right there in front of me.

Think of how each of these elements changes the way your brain processes the meta-information and the subsequent impact that has on your relationship with the concepts themselves.

Pretty deep for a Note from Uncle Dale, I know, but beautiful and inspiring at the same time.

You can identify the base components of a language (signs or words) without being able to communicate the actual meaning and that is no kind of communication.

You have to let it get inside your head and change how you think. If that happens, you’re doing it right

Rule 545

Most problems can be avoided by taking two minutes out of your day to focus on them the FIRST time you think about them. Just two minutes.

And you have many minutes!

You have minutes to:

Check the time of the appointment;

Check the address;

Check the name of the client;

Check the name and phone number of the contact person; and,

you will still have so many minutes.

Note from Uncle Dale: “You” and “You, Interpreted”

So let’s wrap up this week of connected Rules.

If you think about it there are always at least two “yous” that exist side by side.

There is the “you” that looks out from behind your eyes. This “you” knows your history and thus understands the reasons you do what you do. This you knows your fears and hopes and motivations.

Then there is the “you, interpreted.” This is the “you” that most people know. It is the “you” that is interpreted based solely on your actions, what you do, you with no access to your inner motivations.

You are always being interpreted. There is nothing you can do to prevent that.

But, if you know it then you have a little control over it. You can manipulate it (not like a Bond villain) like you already do unconsciously. Think about “you” at work, “you” at home, “you” at church. If we asked people from these different environments to describe “you” each “you” would be a little bit different. Not because you are being fake or putting on an act, but because the demands of each situation are a little bit different. Each demands a slightly different “you,” or at least a slightly different interpretation of “you.”

As interpreters we use this dichotomy all the time. We change our affect to match the clients’. We interpret not only the signs or spoken words but also the attitudes, emotions, desires, moods and intents of the hearing client to the Deaf client and the Deaf client to the hearing client. We, in essence, “interpret” the clients themselves for each other. We must, because their cultures are so divergent they could not possibly accurately interpret each other through mere observation.

There is another point to all of this discussion however.

I’m obnoxious.

I know this because all of my life people, family, friends, strangers, have felt free to tell me so. It really used to bother me as a kid. But then I started to think about “me” versus “me interpreted” and it changed my perspective.

I’m funny.

I’m interested in things.

I’m excited about things.

I’m likely to sing when the mood hits me.

I dance when I’m excited.

I communicate in stories, poems, and quotes from movies and television shows.

These are all parts of me that I really like. But if you put them all together it’s just too much for many, maybe even most, people. Put them all together you get “me, interpreted” as obnoxious.

It’s not an insult. It’s an accurate description.

Now, there are many situations where this works well. Ask any of my students they will tell you that at one time or another they just were not feeling it that day and would have skipped class, but didn’t; they wanted to see what I would do that day. Would Professor Uncle Dale dance on the desk or roll on the floor? It was worth their time to show up to find out. I keep their attention. If I can keep their attention I can teach them something. It works for me in the classroom.

Not so much if I’m on a committee.

I would be a terrible person to have on a committee. But I know that.

One time I was put on a committee at the Deaf Center and I looked just in time to see a person who was also asked to be on the committee roll her eyes. I followed her out to the hall and said, “I caught the eye-roll.”

She started to stammer out an apology but I stopped her.

“It’s fine,” I assured her, “I’m obnoxious.”

She told me she never said that.

“To my face,” I grinned, “but let’s be honest, you have said it!” I laughed, then quickly said, “look, I know me, I know I’m too much for most people a lot of the time. But I also know that won’t work for a committee, so I will tone it down. I will listen more and not say everything that pops into my head.”

She looked skeptical.

“But,” I continued, “I may get over-excited about a point we are discussing and forget myself. If I am taking over the conversation feel free to look at me and say, ‘you’re being obnoxious.’ It’s not an insult. It’s an accurate description.”

It’s kinda zen, I know. I did not get to this point overnight. It took a lot of self-reflection to understand that I like me and many of the things I like about me… bother other people. Mostly these things bother other people when they all come out of me at once. But that is not them disliking me. That is them being bothered by what I am doing. Being bothered by their interpretation of me. And that is absolutely ok.

Everybody does not have to like “me” all the time.

My brother called me a while ago and asked me if I realized my Dad was mad at me.

“Yep,” I answered (I think I had said something nice about Obama…)

He asked me what I was going to do about it.

“I don’t think I have to do something about it,” I replied.

He asked me if I was really just going to let Dad be mad at me?

“I’m not letting Dad do anything,” I corrected, “he can choose to be mad as long as he wants, or not to be mad. He is not mad at me, he is mad at something I said.”

My brother wanted me to unpack that for him.

“Am I still invited to thanksgiving dinner?”

My brother was fairly certain I was.

“If Poppi and Grammee take the grandkids to McDonalds will my kids be excluded?”

He assured me they would not. Poppi would not do that over a simple disagreement.

“Then,” I reasoned, “there is nothing fundamentally broken in our relationship. He is not mad at me, he is mad at something I said. Now, if I was not welcome at Thanksgiving or he cut my kids from his life that would not be worth a political comment to me and I would feel the need to address it. But as it stands? I know my father loves me, but Dad does not have to be happy with me all the time.

No one but me ever has to be happy with me.

I’d like it if my wife was happy with me most of the time. But other than that people will interpret what I say and do. Some will be happy. Some will not.”

That is zen.

I don’t get there all the time, but I try to visit as often as I can.

I hope this week’s Rules help someone get a little perspective on who they are.

You are enough. You don’t need anyone’s permission to think so. Not even mine.


Rule 543.3

If someone dislikes something you’ve done or something you’ve said you are under no obligation to fix it, especially if you believe in what you’ve done or said.

(In other words, Sorry not sorry-Kim Bishop!)

This is not permission to be rude. It is permission to relax.