Kimberly Johnson, recently selected as 2021-22 Alabama Teacher of the Year, said she is encouraged by the feedback she receives when a student succeeds in her class.
"Memorable moments are always those times when I get the notes from parent's saying, 'Thank you for pushing my kid,'" Johnson said. "Or, when a parent called me and said, 'Oh, I didn't know we could do this ,' and they're so a happy."
Johnson, who teaches study skills classes for at-risk students at Auburn Junior High School, was chosen as this year's Alabama Teacher of the Year on Aug. 11 at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.
Johnson received her bachelor’s degree with a major in journalism and public relations but quickly realized that was not for her.
“My heart wasn’t in journalism because you know, you have to pretty much be a go-getter,” Johnson said. “You have to be willing to talk to strangers all the time, and I don’t feel like I was in my purpose.”
Therefore, after working as a substitute teacher, Johnson went back to school and received her master’s degree in education. She began her career as a teacher in 1998 as an English language arts teacher and later took up her current position. She is also a 2008 Auburn graduate in English language arts teacher education.
According to a press release by the Department of Education in Alabama, Johnson first obtained the duty to work with at-risk students in the Alabama Reading Initiative training during summer 1999.
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Since then, Johnson said she has strived to get students involved and interested in their coursework by using a student-centered approach. This involves giving students options and holding them accountable when it comes to their schoolwork.
Johnson said one of the most important aspects of her teaching is showing students that she cares. Then she can build a relationship with them and create a safe space where they can work through any issues they may face.
"Relationships are first, and then you can get students to do hard things," she said.
Ross Reed, principal of Auburn Junior High School, said he believes that building relationships with students is essential to a teacher’s success.
“You can be an outstanding English teacher [or] physics teacher,” Reed said, “[but] if you can’t reach students, and communicate with them, and break down some barriers and develop those relationships and develop that rapport, you’re not going to be successful.”
Reed said that Johnson excels at all of these things.
In her classroom, Johnson posts affirmations to encourage students that they can do hard things. But this message, she said, can also apply to teachers who are teaching during the pandemic.
“We’re still in a hard two years of school," Johnson said. "You know, just showing up and being there is a struggle for some people, let alone the learning that has to happen."
In the coming weeks, Johnson will begin to travel on behalf of the state as an advocate for Alabama education. She has no definite plans on what she will teach, but she is willing to share the experiences that have taught and shaped her.
“With my platform and how I got to where I am today, it wasn’t about big ideas," she said. "It was about one kid at time, and it was about the relationships."
In the future, Johnson said she would like to see more flexibility within Alabama education. She believes teachers should work with every individual student to find how they learn best and allow them to work at their own pace.
Daniel Chesser, public relations coordinator for Auburn City Schools, said Johnson is considered a "response to intervention" educator as she tailors her instruction to each student's rate of learning.
“That’s how she approaches her role for Auburn City Schools as a [response to intervention] educator, understanding that every child is different, and every child learns differently," Chesser said.
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