Tammy Johnson - Featured Teacher June 2019

Tammy originally wanted to teach history, but there were no vacancies. In preparation for the open position in Special Education, she completed two post-secondary courses and dove into an unexpected passion. She didn’t rate it out loud to me, as such, but she is so obviously into teaching, and improving at teaching, and succeeding at teaching, and candidly offering her affinity for teaching to her students and colleagues. I won’t get to verify this with them, but I don’t need to. Authenticity is never counterfeit.

Antioch Upper Grade School, Antioch, IL

She’s wrapping up her twelfth year as a professional educator this Friday. She was actually taking a break from packing up her room to talk with me. I asked if she would be sad to leave her students and she taught me about something new - at Antioch Upper Grade, an Illinois middle school, her classes cycle through. Her incoming sixth graders stay with her through seventh and eighth grade. I think that’s so cool, for everyone. They get to rely on her support from start to finish in middle school, which she says many kids are pretty concerned about coming from elementary. They also get some mentorship from the older kids in her group; as the youngest of six brothers I affix substantial value to mentorship. And, most beneficial to Tammy, she gets to work and grow with her pupils to see three years of progress.

Tammy and her two boys Ryan and Reed

Tammy was nominated to be our Featured Teacher this month by Steve Novak, one of our most-loved instructors. I’m not using that generically. We hear “I love Steve’s courses” a LOT. I asked her why he might have suggested her first, and almost immediately she said “Professor Novak is such an excellent teacher. As a committed teacher and mother of two, taking his courses has been so instrumental in offering directly useful upgrades to my classroom skills, and I learn so much from him on a schedule that works with mine.” I think he nominated her because she wholly embraces professional development and loves putting it to good use. Great teachers love committed learners.

Tammy told me she’s averse to online learning. She gets so much more out of a live interactive classroom with structured guidance. She told me there are many Illinois universities offering continuing education, but that the topics are outdated and the classes are inconvenient or unsubstantial or nearly impossible to complete due to scheduling. It sounds like our scheduled site-based courses are designed with teachers’ lives in mind. The first sentence of our ‘About Us’ page starts “Founded in 1981 by educators for educators…” which I always saw as a standard marketing line, but in truth our whole program was originally designed by active teachers to be relevant and convenient to the busy life of a school teacher. We are motivated to stick with that M.O.

We discussed the Special Education department at her school. There are nine co-teachers and two cognitive specialists that work together to maintain one of the premium programs in the area. She mentioned how rewarding it is for all of them to take PD courses and improve and succeed in collaboration. That does sound rewarding. I can remember just two jobs of the twenty I’ve probably had that stand out for the team harmony, and the feeling is nearly indescribable. It’s really just magic. She also said that her students’ parents are so willing to augment her efforts, whether by reading extra books, working on specific goals or communicating about future goals. That justifies her animation when discussing her profession.

I assumed, correctly I think, that raising two active boys and being super committed to her program might leave less free time than most of us enjoy. But she has a “summer shack” on Lake Wisconsin where they go to fish, kayak, jet ski and probably to escape the city. Maybe communing with nature and being active recharges her batteries for achievement, like me.

View from the summer shack on Lake Wisconsin, Poynette, Wisconsin

I didn’t ask for a list of all the classes she has taken but she did specifically mention the value gained from her Response to Intervention (RTI): A Roadmap for Successful Classroom Implementation course. I suggested Co-teaching for Success in the Classroom and she said that’s on her agenda for the summer. When I asked, Tammy also suggested we could explore more courses related to teaching for diverse backgrounds. Be it sexuality, class, race, learning style or any other identification, it’s not really about enforcement of a stance but rather having the tools and being prepared to handle those situations when they are presented. She also turned me onto a new book by Ruby Payne called A Framework for Understanding Poverty. I’ll read it and we can explore coursework in that area.

Our premise for this concept was to recognize the efforts of our teachers but I feel like I’m getting more of the benefit from the conversations. I learn so much about the teaching community interacting with people who are so talented and committed, and the result is that I am inspired. But that’s what great teachers do, right?


Ike Martinson
Ike is addicted to life in the Pacific Northwest. He enjoys the mountains, the lakes, the food, the people and all the seasons. He is an amateur artist, a commercial pilot and our sales director.