Teacher Miley embraces American Sign Language


Megan Scarano

American Sign Language teacher Erica Miley wears a clear mask so students can see her mouth move, and better understand what she’s teaching during class.

Megan Scarano

Imagine a world of silence. You can’t hear music, your loved ones, or anything. This has been American Sign Language teacher Erica Miley’s reality her entire life.

Miley grew up in Miami but moved to Atlanta soon after receiving her master’s degree in linguistics from Gallaudet University. Her move to Atlanta was sparked by her desire for change and experience in a new environment. Growing up, Miley said she was naturally very good at math and focused on it most of her life. Though she’s loved math her entire life, she grew more interested in dialect during college and pursued it as a career.

“I thought I would become an accountant or something in business administration, something having to do with numbers,” Miley said. “Then, I took this one course in college, Linguistics 101. It was the study of language. And that really had a strong impact on me. I fell in love with it. I extended my term for another few years, and then I got my master’s after that for 15 months.”

Miley teaches ASL at the college, high school and elementary levels. She currently teaches two online courses at Kentucky State University, a class at Georgia State, at Midtown and at Hope-Hill Elementary School. With these varying levels of maturity, Miley often has to adapt her lesson plans.

“The collegiate students are much more independent;so, I can just direct them while being myself,” Miley said. “At Midtown [students], are so accustomed to using auditory information and so, to try to get used to using visual information, it’s much more challenging for me. I have to figure out what exactly it is that students need and what is needed by the curriculum in order to match students’ needs.”

Because of the pandemic, Miley has faced new challenges that have created communication issues.

“The only thing that’s different is right now you’re wearing a mask and, typically, I like to lip read,” Miley said. “I understand conversation better with lip reading. So when you have a mask, and those are required because of COVID, that creates a lot of challenges for me and a lot of barriers. It’s difficult for that authenticity to come through.”

Luckily, Miley’s interpreter, Erika Bravo, has provided assistance, which makes it easier for Miley to communicate with her students. Bravo enjoys helping break the lip reading barrier caused by the pandemic.

“Being able to give that access, so that two people can have a fluid conversation and there not be miscommunications, that’s my favorite part,” Bravo said.

Sophomore Sam Neff also finds having the interpreter useful, as Bravo allows him to communicate with Miley more efficiently.

“Since I’m not fluent [in sign language] and Ms. Miley is deaf, [the interpreter] helps bridge the gap between hearing and deaf,” Neff said.

The class learns the basics of ASL such as greeting and the alphabet their first year. By the second year, they will be learning how to put full sentences together.

“My favorite thing is probably how fast we learn it because she [Miley] goes over it a lot, and she really is thorough about how she teaches it,” freshman Devon Dubose said. “So, we’re understanding new things every day.”

In class, students learn more than just signs. They also learn about deaf culture. Miley believes it’s important for students to not only be able to communicate in sign language but also appreciate and learn about deaf culture.

“I don’t just teach American Sign Language,” Miley said. “I’m also teaching about my culture as well. For example, in American Sign Language, there’s also a Black American Sign Language. So, I integrate them so that they [students] can be able to differentiate between the two, so that if they ever decide they want to do that type of work where they’re interpreting for a full-time career, [they can].”

Sophomore Willa Silvis sees learning sign language as s new and unique.

“I think it is very interesting to learn a new way of communication that’s really different from how I’ve grown up,” Silvis said. “The class is also very engaging and fun.”

Miley will always be infatuated with language and relishes being able to teach her culture and language to future generations across all age groups.

“Some students try so hard to translate in their heads what I’m saying, and I can see their learning, and that just really inspires me to keep helping them to grow, “ Miley said. “When they’re excited to learn about deaf culture, I just love seeing the way they respond and being able to have those real life conversations with them.”