Kayla Johnson (M.A., M.Ed. in Deaf Education and Elementary Education)
Published in Convocation
Life before TC
As a child in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Johnson watched her mother learn American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with a deaf neighbor and eventually become a sign language interpreter. Johnson herself soon discovered a knack for languages and went on to learn French, Spanish and German. At the University of Florida in Gainesville, where she majored in linguistics and minored in math and in speech, language and hearing sciences, she was inspired by observing a self-contained classroom with deaf students.
“I fell in love immediately—the small class size, the use of sign language, the activities they were doing—I knew immediately I would enjoy doing that,” she says. “Language is really where my passion is.”
In the heated debate among the deaf and educators of the deaf, Johnson sides with those who consider ASL an indigenous language with its own grammatical structures and rules. She advocates a bilingual approach to deaf education that treats ASL and English as two distinct languages, best learned separately. “For deaf children who may not have grown up with any language,” the opposing “total communication” approach, in which the signer learns to speak words as he or she signs, does not, in her view, provide sufficient immersion in either language.
Nevertheless, Johnson chose TC because it teaches both techniques and because Robert Kretschmer – “a name in research, both in linguistics and deaf education,” and now Professor Emeritus – was on the faculty.
Johnson highly values her work with Russell Rosen, an anthropologist, lecturer and coordinator of the Teaching of American Sign Language as a Foreign Language program, who is himself deaf. “The best way to learn anything about deaf people is through deaf people,” she says.
Life after TC
Johnson is seeking a teaching position, preferably in a bilingual environment, but she is open to using the total communication approach as well. “My one requirement is that I do want to be using sign language when I teach,” she says.