[Q&A] Kershaw Teacher of the Year: 'I was born to teach'

Melody Johnson / Lugoff Elementary

February 11, 2010 

What inspired you to choose teaching as a career?

I believe we all are born with a purpose - something we are meant to accomplish with our time and our abilities. I was born to teach. I knew sitting in Mrs. McLester's first-grade class that I would one day teach. She was the most amazing first-grade teacher. She opened my eyes to a whole new world of books and learning and how exciting it all could be. She arranged for our class to showcase our newly found reading abilities before the State Board of Education.

I remember practicing with my dollies to be sure I could read all the words and read them excitedly. Learning in her class did not just happen within those four walls. She found a way to make it real. She made me believe I could be anything and do anything. I never wanted school to end. I am so thankful to teach in that very school today. I hope that I inspire students as Mrs. McLester inspired me.

If you were not an educator, what would you like to do for a living?

I cannot imagine not being an educator. Teaching is my passion.

What one thing have you borrowed from your favorite teacher that you use in your classroom?

Class meetings. I hold weekly class meetings. We compliment one another and discuss/ role play issues in our classroom that need addressing. This gives students a forum for sharing their own ideas about how to make the Johnson Jungle a better place. It gives them a feeling of ownership and a sense of responsibility.

Describe how you learned you were named Teacher of the Year in your district, and how you celebrated.

In May, the Kershaw County Teacher Forum hosted a Teacher of the Year Gala to celebrate the Teachers of the Year in each school. I felt honored and appreciated by a video highlighting each teacher and his/her students, door prizes and more. I was named Teacher of the Year at the end of the evening. It was overwhelming. My family and friends were there, as were several former teachers. It was an evening I will never forget. Following the gala, I celebrated at Sam Kendall's with my family.

What recognition did you receive for being named District Teacher of the Year?

From the moment the announcement was made, I have felt honored. Upon arriving at Lugoff Elementary the next morning, I saw my name already on the marquee. I couldn't believe someone went to school that late or that early to put up the sign. I had no idea this was just the beginning. When I entered the building, posters and signs were everywhere. There were even stars in the hallway leading to my classroom. The entire student body celebrated with me on Lugoff Live, our morning news show. They crowned me with a tiara and sash, and my students threw confetti. In the next few weeks, the Chronicle Independent spotlighted my classroom. In addition, I have had many opportunities to share my story with other teachers. I spoke to new teachers during their orientation, and to all Kershaw County teachers and administrators at the opening session of our Kershaw County Instructional Fair.

What would your students say you are best known for?

I think my students would say I am best known for finding a fun, exciting way to teach most anything. Whether it's singing and dancing, acting and painting, or integrating technology, we learn a lot and have a great time along the way.

How do you see current economic conditions affecting your classroom, and how do you try to counteract that?

There is no doubt the current economic conditions have affected our classrooms. In the past two years, however, I have written grants to buy the things my students need. Hundreds of books, i-Pods, a SMART Cam, an LCD projector, a printer, and an HP Tablet laptop are just a few of things I have been able to purchase. Parents, of course, are a valuable resource as well.

What one item could you never do without in your classroom, and why?

I could not do without a computer. Technology is such an integral part of our world and my classroom. I use it to motivate, encourage, enrich and differentiate instruction. It is one of the most powerful tools we have as teachers. I do not think technology makes a teacher great, but a great teacher can do amazing things with technology.

What has been your most memorable classroom moment over the past year?

I challenged a student to a one-on-one basketball game on the playground. He had to meet several behavioral goals for one week for the game to take place. Each day students began to encourage him. They would write notes to him on our Encouragement Wall. "You can do it. Just three more days," they'd write. It was amazing to see them come together to support their friend. I will never forget the smiles, cheers and excitement of every student there as the two of us played on the LES playground. A teacher's power to motivate became more clear than ever to me that day.

If you are named a finalist for S.C. Teacher of the Year, who will be the first nonrelative you call?

The first nonrelative I would call would be Jackie Norton. She has been my teammate for four years. She is a huge encourager and supporter for me every single day.

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