Troy Story: The ASL Teacher Who Won an Academy Award | Michael Thal

After repeating ASL 1 two times, I stepped into Troy Kotsur’s Level 2 American Sign Language class at a Burbank, California middle school. My motivation to learn ASL came a few years prior when I awoke one morning to a severe overnight hearing loss. The ENT specialist said I would be completely deaf one day. Level 1 wasn’t easy. I was 46 years old learning a new language and culture, which is very difficult, if not impossible for a middle-aged man to learn. I was thinking of giving it up, but then I met Troy, who made ASL fun and comprehensible. 

We had about ten people in Troy Kotsur’s class. It was rare for anyone to be absent, even though most of us were parents with full-time jobs. Though our teacher didn’t have a voice, he had a unique ability to mime a meaning out of thin air, make us laugh, and his antics ensured we’d never forget the sign. At the close of a lesson, we’d play a game, especially when his girlfriend, Deanne Bray, showed up. She would sign a hand-shape, and we had to dig our memories for an ASL gesture to compliment it.

The class was pure enjoyment, and due to Troy’s unique motivational skills, I got hooked on ASL for life. I went on to take classes at Pierce College and finished with ASL-4. Though my teachers after Troy were good, they couldn’t come close to his extraordinary talent. 

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