Gayle Hadley, CI, CT, NIC, Ed:K-12
Conquering the NIC
In the spring of 2005, I participated in the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) pilot test of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID). As an experienced interpreter with eleven years in the field at the time, I still remember feeling unprepared and clueless as to what to expect, especially related to the interview portion of the test. After reading the brief feedback information accompanying my results, I was still unsure as to exactly why I had failed the exam and I was discouraged knowing I would have to take it again.
After some soul searching and wound licking, I decided to research the NIC, specifically looking at the interview rubric used in evaluating testing candidates’ answers to the three questions, or domains, of the interview portion of the exam. However, even with access to this rubric, there was no clarity as to exactly what was expected or desired in answering the three questions, “What is the conflict?”, “What is your decision?”, and “Why? “. To get a better grasp of the exam and interview questions, I purchased the NIC practice DVD. I was able to identify “a conflict” and come up with “a decision”, but the “why” question was still nebulous for me. During the pilot test, I thought I was supposed to state which tenet of the Professional Code of Conduct the conflict violated, to answer the ‘why’ question. But as I recalled, that approach wasn’t successful because I had failed the 3rd domain of the exam. The expectations for that domain remained a puzzle.
In reflection, I see the light had started to dawn when, in January 2005, I attended an independent study group that touched on Robyn K. Dean and Robert Q. Pollard’s Demand-Control Schema (DC-S). Subsequently, in the spring of 2006, I attended Dean’s workshop on DC-S during the Region V conference in Anchorage, Alaska. My third opportunity to really grasp DC-S came in the summer of 2006, when it was my good fortune to participate in Dean and Pollard’s Observation-Supervision Approach research group. It was one of the most beneficial and influential experiences of my entire career. The concepts and skills I learned that summer while observing the mental health setting have been transferable to all areas of my work. My fourth immersion into DC-S was one of those opportunities to experience the old adage, “if you really want to learn something, teach it”. In April, 2007 I presented a workshop to educational interpreters in Fairbanks, Alaska, on ethics in educational interpreting. In teaching DC-S, I was able to more fully internalize it and finally gain a working knowledge of this invaluable tool.
In January 2008, I took a course at the University of Alaska, Anchorage titled, “Ethical Fitness: Practice of Critical Thinking and Decision Making”. The course was taught by long time Alaskan and interpreter mentor, Anne Dawson. The course offered three main benefits in preparation for the NIC examination. First, the questions on the interview portion of the practice DVD were considered and participants practiced answering the questions within the allotted time. Also, the course provided an opportunity to discuss the questions and answers in consideration of the Deaf participants’ perspectives, and thirdly, the course was conducted entirely in American Sign Language (ASL), which I personally think was the beauty of the course!
The Ethical Fitness course also reviewed the DC-S, emphasizing its importance in analyzing ethical dilemmas and scenarios, such as those presented in the NIC examination. The biggest “Aha!” for me came in understanding the “Why” question. In review of DC-S, we read Dean and Pollard’s article “From Best Practice to Best Practice Process: Shifting Ethical Thinking and Teaching” (Dean and Pollard, 2006). The article explains that as interpreters, we need to address ethics from a teleological approach (focus on outcomes) versus a deontological approach (focus on adherence to rules). This was huge for me! I realized that previously in answering the “why” question, I had used a deontological approach; “Which tenet should be adhered to in resolving the conflict (demand)?” Now, with this new teleological approach, I realized that the “why” question meant; “What will the outcome be? How will your decision affect the consumers? Will there be any new conflicts or resulting demands?” Dean and Pollard use this phrase in their work analysis, “the demand-control-consequence-resulting demand sequence” (D-C-C-RD). The RID interview rubric explains it like this, for the best possible rating (IV) in answering Domain #3; “the candidate’s response will contain sufficient discussion of both the short-term and long-term effects that might include cultural, political, and/or sociological implications” (RID, 2007). Ok, now we were getting somewhere! Confidence renewed, I could now come up with a reasonable explanation as to “why” I made the decision and “how” it would affect consumers, colleagues and potentially the community, both now and in the future. Also, I could include a prediction of new demands (conflicts) and consequences that might arise as a result of my decision. Finally, I could say with confidence “Alright NIC, bring it on”!
As I stated previously, the Ethical Fitness course, conducted entirely in ASL, was pure genius. Dialoging with Deaf participants was extremely beneficial. Considering their perspectives in evaluating conflicts and choosing possible controls was enlightening. Dialoging with them helped broaden my schema and opened my mind to new possibilities that I wouldn’t have considered or perhaps, wasn’t conscious of previously. Likewise, the Deaf participants gained new knowledge and perspectives by considering the hearing interpreters’ points of view. It was nice to see their “aha” moments too.
The NIC examination requires candidates to respond in ASL, Transliteration or total communication modalities when answering the questions on the interview portion. Candidates may not respond using their voice only. Previously, all of my study, research and discussion on DC-S had been in spoken English. The terminology and jargon specific to DC-S is complex, even for fluent English speakers. As I recall, part of my apprehension and anxiety in taking the NIC exam was related to the requirement of responding to questions in ASL. The first time I took the exam, I barely knew what DC-S was, let alone how to dialogue about it in either language. This course afforded me the opportunity to become comfortable in dialoging about DC-S in sign language. I could now breathe a sigh of relief, when considering my responses during the NIC exam. At least SOME of my testing anxiety would be assuaged!
In May of 2008, I again sat for the NIC test. This time I felt confident with regard to the interview portion. I had spent many hours discussing ethical dilemmas and developing well prepared answers to the Practice Scenarios on the NIC Practice DVD…perhaps too many hours. This time, when I sat for the Performance portion of the test, I felt un-nerved, ill-prepared. I remember thinking “Oh no, I didn’t focus much on this part of the test. I’m not ready for this!”
Thankfully, my years of test taking experiences really came through for me. In August 2008 I received my test results via email. I had passed at the NIC level. My first response was disappointment…disappointment that I had not passed at the Advanced Level. I wasn’t expecting Master, but I was certainly hoping for Advanced. In speaking with several colleagues who have received the NIC level, I found that my response is not unusual. Several of us are planning to take it again. But that’s another topic for another day.
In retrospect, there were three important factors that really helped me pass the interview portion of the exam. The first, was gaining an understanding of the three domains in the NIC interview portion of the test, and understanding what was expected in answering the questions for each domain. The second was analyzing the interview scenarios from a teleological approach as opposed to a deontological approach. Considering the consequences or outcomes of my decisions was especially important in answering the third question; “Why”? Finally, dialoging about the test and constructing my answers in ASL really boosted my confidence and helped ease my testing anxiety.
It is my hope that this article will encourage those of you who are embarking on your own NIC journey. The journey may seem long, but it’s definitely worth the walk. To learn what is expected in taking the NIC, go to RID’s website and click on one of the links for more information. The more you know, the more you can say “Alright NIC, bring it on”!