Inspiring Educator Mary Johnson – Helping students find success

“Every new class, every new student is a puzzle to work out. They are all individuals and all at different places. For some students, success means making all A’s, but for a student at the C level, bringing his or her grade up to a B is a success and should be celebrated as well,” says Mary Johnson, seventh-grade math teacher at Sequatchie County Middle School and SVEC’s March Inspiring Educator. “Getting to know the kids and figuring out the puzzle — the best way to help them achieve success — is what I enjoy most about teaching. I want them to know that the most important part of education is the journey, not the destination — it is not a race or a competition. Everyone doesn’t learn at the same pace or arrive at the destination at the same time. But as long as we are moving forward, making progress toward our goal, we are successful.”

Johnson, a South Pittsburg native and a graduate of South Pittsburg High School, has been helping students achieve their goals for nearly 32 years. However, when she began her college career, her major was not education but chemical engineering.

“I didn’t stay in engineering long. I am a ‘people person’ and missed the interaction with other people while working in the lab,” Johnson said. She changed her major to education and received her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. She then went on to earn a Master of Science degree in curriculum and instruction from Trevecca Nazarene University and a second master’s in administration from Middle Tennessee State University.

Johnson began her career teaching English at Richard Hardy Memorial School (RHMS) in the Richard City community of South Pittsburg. After 10 years of teaching, she served as principal of RHMS for nine years and one year as interim director of schools for the special school district.

Johnson then moved to the Sequatchie County School System, teaching fourth grade at Griffith Elementary for four years before transferring to the Sequatchie County Middle School where she taught fifth-grade science before taking over her current responsibilities as the seventh-grade math teacher.

“Some teachers who have taught the same subject and the same grade level for many years begin to get burned out and end up leaving their teaching career,” Johnson said. “I think I have avoided that by changing it up. Sometimes all you need is a new grade, a new subject or a new school environment to get your spark back.

“I use a lot of discussion and group work in my classes. I don’t just lecture. I can’t imagine having to sit there every day with someone lecturing me — it would bore me to death! So I have to assume it would bore them, too.

“Students today have shorter attention spans, but they are also more sophisticated and tech-savvy. They have been introduced to a whole world of information on the internet and are very good at finding answers. I let them work together to find answers and then have them help each other. As they explain the material to others, they gain a better grasp of the information themselves.

“I also incorporate a lot of humor and stories in my lessons to help them remember the concepts and formulas. But, most important, I am always there to help them through their educational journeys. Since not all students learn in the same way, over the years I have added a lot of tricks and tools to my ‘toolbox.’ If one method doesn’t work, I try another one. If I end up with students who don’t respond to my methods and we end up ‘butting heads,’ I make a special effort to get to know that student as an individual. I want each to know that I care about him or her as an individual and that I want to see each of them succeed. I tell them, ‘Once you are my student, you are also my baby.’ When they know you care, they will try their best. Not everyone will end up with A’s, but most will make progress and see some success.

“When students come back to visit me later in life, and when they tell me they hope their children have me as a teacher, it sure warms this teacher’s heart!” Johnson concluded.