0413 Jeff Johnson Teacher of the Year
Hoover High School teacher Jeff Johnson is a finalist for Alabama’s Teacher of the Year.
Hoover High School teacher Jeff Johnson was named a "Final Four” finalists for Alabama’s 2013-2014 Teacher of the Year. The state's Teacher of the Year winner will be revealed at a ceremony hosted by the Alabama State Department of Education on May 8.
Hoover Sun asked Mr. Johnson about his teaching career and learned his passion for teaching all students and his teachers who motivated him to be where he is now.
Tell us about yourself.
I am 51 (ouch). I currently teach IB physics, AP physics and introductory physics. I live in the South Avondale area of Birmingham and have been teaching 27 years (I think that is four dog years).
What would receiving the title of Alabama Teacher of the Year mean to you?
I am passionate and excited about teaching students and teaching physics to my students. I hope that my enthusiasm is infectious (and with any luck, my students will catch that enthusiasm).
I love to teach because I believe that every student who walks into my classroom will be successful. I believe that I can reach the "challenging," students and I think I can intellectually stimulate those students who are challenging and those who are high achievers as well.
In addition to teaching those students in Hoover, I teach ACCESS classes that reach out to students in communities that do not necessarily have the benefits and privileges of students in the Hoover school system. Receiving the Alabama Teacher of the Year would allow me to advocate for all teachers and students in Alabama, including those in affluent areas and those that are in underserved areas. I want to help teachers and students from every walk of life see that you can be successful, no matter where you are from or what your current circumstances are.
You see, I grew up in a very poor rural working class community, a community that did not value education. My father dropped out of school in the seventh grade, and my mother graduated from high school with very little math and science. My heroes were my teachers who believed in my talents and my potential. If I were named the Alabama Teacher of the Year, what an amazing arc that would complete.
How would you use it to benefit not only your school and district, but also other schools across the state?
I want to advocate for all teachers, not only across Alabama, but also across the nation. Everyone needs to hear the good news about education. Yes, we are getting better, and we are going to get even better if we are willing to make some changes in how we educate our children.
We cannot continue to do what we have done for the last 25 years and engage today's students. It is our obligation to make sure we do whatever is necessary to help our students succeed. Our actions and words have a lifelong influence on our students, which in turn will influence generations to come.
I can tell you from personal experience that education was the way up and the way out of an endless cycle of poverty. I want to remind all teachers of why we do what we do. We want to help all of our students rise to the level of expectations that are soon to be placed on them today and in the years to come. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our Youth for the future".
What would be your first action as Teacher of the Year?
I would come back to Hoover School District and thank all of the teachers and staff that are responsible for this recognition. I believe that I sit on the shoulders of giants. I get the best and the brightest at my school.
The elementary school teachers, the middle school teachers, the ninth and 10th grade teachers that prepare students, the councilors, the cafeteria workers, the custodians that keep our schools beautiful, the bus drivers, the administrators that support us and the school secretaries are the real heroes. I have no illusions that I am the greatest teacher.
I want to put a face on those that deserve this recognition, those that come before me. After that, I want to go to those districts that are struggling and talk with them about how to do more with less and how to reach those students that are "challenging" (I was one of those students).
What mentor or hero deserves partial credit for your nomination and why?
I remember Mr. Jim Honeycutt coming into class one day as “The Unknown Physics Teacher.” He taught an entire lesson on “conservation of energy” with a bag on his head. He connected with students in ways no other teacher ever could. He was always so enthusiastic about every lesson he taught and took an interest in what we were doing outside of physics class (our accomplishments, our dates, our successes and our failures). He was the teacher I aspire to be — smart, funny engaging and challenging. He was always enthusiastic about every lesson he taught, and most importantly, took an interest in what we were doing outside of physics class.
Mrs. Mary-Leigh Aldridge not only expected me to achieve in her class, but also achieve at the highest levels. She was funny, demanding, engaging and most of all, unrelenting.
Mr. Honeycutt and Mrs. Aldridge made me believe it was well within my power to overcome the pattern of low expectations that had been placed on me. I was lucky enough to have these teachers that saw my gifts even when my parents did not. They taught me to stop thinking in terms of limitations and start thinking in terms of what was possible. I was lucky enough to be able to teach with both of these extraordinary teachers my first three years in the classroom.
What one thing do you hope every student learns from you?
I hope that my students take away the idea that learning is not always about a grade, and real learning can be a struggle. Sometimes you have to wrestle and struggle with a difficult concept in order to truly understand it. Memorization and learning are not the same thing.
In the 21st century being college and career ready is not what it was in the 20th century. Learning to be independent learners is going to be one of the most important skills these students are going to have to master.
For most of my students, AP physics is their first "real" struggle. It is a very difficult course with very difficult concepts. Often students become frustrated and want to give up or quit. All of my students are bright and are not accustomed to this struggle. I love watching them grow and develop over the course of the year. One of the first things I tell my students is, "I'm going to be patient with you so you have to be patient with yourself".