Park Rapids announces 2011Teacher of the Year
The last bell rang an hour ago, but students are popping in Kerry Johnson's high school English classroom to update her on an achievement or chat for a moment.
The rapport between the young scholars and the educator is evident.
Johnson's creativity in the classroom, as a coach and Student Council advisor has earned the distinction of District 309 Teacher of the Year.
"She's very well liked by the kids," said peer Angie Kuehn, who nominated her. "She's here at 7 a.m. and takes her job very seriously." Johnson's "energy and positive attitude" engage her audience of learners, athletes and student leaders.
John Schumacher agrees. "She's a fantastic coach, an awesome motivator," the Park Rapids Area High School activities director said. "She's willing to go the extra mile for the kids and provide very positive opportunities and experiences," he said of her coaching boys and girls cross country programs. "She's a huge asset to the district, athletics and the community."
Johnson returned 19 years ago to assume the role of teacher at her alma mater. She arrived in Park Rapids as a toddler, spending 10 years away after graduation before coming full circle.
"I began teaching with people I had as teachers," she said. But she was not intimidated. "I liked the familiarity."
Johnson graduated from college with a journalism major and minor in theater. She began working as a sports editor for the Wright County Journal Press.
But her focus was on the athletes, not the scores or how the game ended. "I liked the kids."
So, married to husband Scott, a physical therapist, she decided to head back to school, St. Scholastica in Duluth.
After graduating, she accepted a teaching job in Eau Claire, Wis. for a year "But we missed Minnesota."
When openings for both occupations became available in Park Rapids, the Johnsons headed home, Scott also of Panther upbringing.
"I can't imagine doing anything else," the mother of Ian, a sophomore, and Maya, a seventh grader, said.
"It's great. School is so much a part of what happens in a small town. It's good to be a part of what's happening in kids' lives."
Johnson relishes her role on several tiers - as a cross-country coach, "meeting the kids on a totally different level," as a varsity hockey parent manager, Student Council advisor and teacher, where her goal is to engage every student's intellect.
"In a perfect world," she reflected, "my students would love to read as much as I do. Many do love to read but not all. I want them to find ways to connect to literature.
"Sure, we don't live in the Mississippi Delta in the '40s, but we can read about characters' lives and find that there are universal themes. I would like them to see the historical connection between what we read and what was happening at the time," she said.
"I think it's important to get to know the students," Johnson reflected. "They are more than just people filling up desks. They have activities, dreams and so many interests.
"Connecting with them on those levels helps the task of teaching become a bit easier. I want to know what they think. That's a benefit of coaching too. I get to know the students on a different level," she said.
"I feel very blessed to teach English. I don't always feel that way when I spend many hours at my kitchen table, correcting essay after essay. But if students are honest in their writing, I can learn so much. I can learn what is important to them, and I think that is such a privilege," Johnson said.
"It was nice to earn the award on a local level," she said of the award, "to be nominated by people I respect."