Johnson named Petal teacher of the year

By NIKKI SMITH,

 “The students. The students. The students.”

This was Petal Upper Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year Lori Johnson’s response when she considered the best part of a career in education.

“Taking the time to get to know students socially, emotionally and academically is key,” she said. “Each student has a name and a story to be learned so that growth can be strived for and achieved.”

The Brandon native teaches sixth-grade English Language Arts and Social Studies. She has worked for the Petal School District for all 15 of her years in education.

While Johnson is an educator, she also knows the value of her continuing to learn as well.

“As a teacher, I value the continuation of learning for myself so that I can provide the best education tailored for each individual student,” she said. “I have to constantly assess my own weaknesses to continue to grow professionally. I am thankful to work with a team that is always helpful in researching solutions to problems my students may be having.”

Johnson said the guidance from teachers and administrators like Lawrie Wallace, Emily Branch, Dede Smith and Gloria Wyatt, who have mentored her, means the most.

Others who Johnson said have encouraged and taught her over the years include Robin Atwood, director of the South Mississippi Writing Project and World Class Teaching Program at USM; educational authors like Kylene Beers, Kelly Gallagher, Rose Cappelli, Lynne Dorfman, Timothy Rasinski, Joseph Harris and many others.

She said they have all played a pivotal part in her growth as a teacher and have inspired her.

“Although I face challenges daily on how to either help a struggling student succeed or push a student that is excelling, I am thankfully surrounded by a wonderful group of people, organizations and books that are always willing to lend support,” she said.

Johnson was nominated by her peers for the Teacher of the Year honor.

“I am truly humbled to be chosen as the teacher of the year for Petal Upper Elementary School by my fellow teachers,” she said. “I work in a school filled with talented and dedicated teachers that strive to provide the very best for all of our students on a daily basis and find it a true honor to be selected. This staff is especially special because of the family environment we share.”

After Petal Upper Elementary was hit by the tornado last year and relocated to Petal Harvey Baptist Church, Johnson said every teacher worked together without complaining to meet both the emotional, artistic and academic needs of the children as a team.

“This brought us all that much closer to one another,” she said. “I love walking through the doors into work with everyone each and every day.”

Johnson was drawn to the Petal School District when she had the opportunity to work in classrooms around the Pine Belt while attending The University of Southern Mississippi.

“Petal stood out because of the teachers’ commitment to excellence, belief that all students had the ability to learn and grow and the strong relationship the school system had with the parents and community,” she said.

While she loves her job and knows this is where she is meant to be, Johnson did not always plan to become a teacher.

“I actually started as an accounting major in college,” she said. “I soon realized that I was on the wrong path as I was missing working with and teaching children. Something that I had done through many jobs like working at Camp Garaywa in my teenage years.”

Johnson will spend the rest of the year working to engage her students in their coursework, as well as in activities outside of the classroom.

“My sixth-grade team is striving to better engage students in the study of ELA and Social Studies through the AIM Experience,” she said. “The AIM Experience consists of ELA based clubs that take place during school hours once a week to allow access to all students to help with motivating student learning.”

She said the entire school is focused on “teaching the whole child.”

“We are all sharing and studying how to do this across the academic classrooms and the arts, so I am looking forward to better understanding not only the necessity of teaching the whole child, but how to apply this in my classroom through authentic learning experiences.”

Since the creation of the Mississippi National Board Certified Teacher Network, Johnson – along with a few other National Board teachers – is currently working on creating a regional network in our area for National Board teachers to have a way to grow as leaders and as advocates.”

Johnson hopes that by studying ancient civilizations and writing argument papers, her sixth-graders will learn to not just be decision-makers, but also learn to become informed decision-makers throughout life.

“Using the tools and strategies that we provide, I hope that the students realize that the lessons we teach in the classroom are applicable to real-world experiences they are encountering now and will encounter in the future,” she said. “I also always hope that all of the lessons and discussions we have on theme and connotation as we read pieces of literature will lead to students being more kind and compassionate individuals.”

Johnson earned her Associate of Arts from Jones County Junior College. She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from The University of Southern Mississippi and Master of Education in Mild and Moderate Disabilities from William Carey University.