A 1990 graduate of Wellborn High School, Kimberly Christian Johnson of Auburn, is in the running for the Alabama Teacher of the Year award.
One of four finalists statewide, Johnson described the honor as “humbling” and said there are many other teachers throughout the state — including those at Auburn Junior High School, where she works — who strive as earnestly as she does to improve the lives of their students.
“People who are called to teach do it for the children. They do it to make a difference,” said Johnson, who’s originally from Anniston. “I feel I'm not doing that much more now (in the classroom) than I did 10-to-15 years ago. I'm just getting the recognition now. Getting the opportunity to represent my school is very special to me. I want to make them all proud."
Johnson described herself as a “faith-based” person and a “mom” to many of her students.
“I believe that, sometimes, God puts you in a place for a purpose. And my purpose is teaching at-risk students. It's my job to figure out what's going on with each of them — whether there are academic problems, mental health problems, attendance problems, problems at home, or whatever ... and then help them.”
Johnson began teaching junior high English and language arts at Cedar Ridge Middle School in Decatur in 1998. She was there for six years before moving on to Auburn Junior High in the fall of '04 and has been there ever since.
In 1999, she spent the summer attending the Alabama Reading Initiative Training program, which led her to teach reading to at-risk students. For the last five years, her focus has been on developing study skills for those eighth- and ninth-graders who are identified by educators and social workers as at-risk students.
Johnson said she uses a student-centered approach in her classroom. Her school has an enrollment of more than 1,400.
“It's important that I give my students the tools they need to be successful in life. I am their support person. It's up to me to motivate them and keep them interested in school.”
Johnson said one teacher who inspired her as a youth was Anniston's own Ruth Mitchell, now retired language arts instructor from Wellborn High School.
Mitchell said she isn't surprised that Johnson is a finalist for the state's top award.
“Not at all,” she said. “I always knew that Kim would do well and rise to the top in whatever career she chose. That's just the kind of person that she is. I bet that if you asked any of her teachers there would only be compliments.”
Mitchell termed her former pupil “an ideal student for any teacher.”
She added, “I had her both in the seventh and 12th grades and all of her assignments were done with perfection. She was just so well respected. So no, I'm not the least bit surprised that she is vying for this award."
Johnson said so many of her students "struggle" in one form or another.
“I have had students whose parents are really struggling financially and are homeless. In some instances, violence at home is a problem or lack of sleep. For others, school may be the only place they get a hot meal the whole day,” Johnson said. “When you have students with so many insecurities, they can be hard to teach. That's why communication is so important between the student and me, as well as the other teachers and me. I must advocate for these kids and I must get them to do the work. I want to improve their lives.”
A secret-ballot selection process from her fellow teachers put Johnson’s name on the nomination list for the state’s top teaching award.
Auburn Junior High Principal Ross Reed has worked with Johnson the last eight years and holds her in high regard.
“Kim is a veteran teacher who has a heart for learning, for her students, and for supporting those around her. She is also a leader. A number of teachers on our campus were interns of Mrs. Johnson. She was a great trainer for our teachers.”
Reed said Johnson has made a smooth transition to RTI (Response to Intervention) coordinator the last few years and has excelled at identifying students with various academic and behavioral struggles.
“And she's done an outstanding job of supporting those students,” he said. “She's basically our school mom. She is that mentor who people go to for advice. She wants to see our students be successful in every way. If she's not the best person for this award, I want to meet the person who is.”
The winner of the award will be announced in August. The four finalists will submit to an extensive interview with the state judging committee before a decision is reached. The Teacher of the Year recipient spends the next school year serving as an official spokesperson for Alabama education and the teaching profession.
The winner also represents the state for the National Teacher of the Year award.
Johnson also worked as an intern at The Anniston Star and was the recipient of the newspaper's first scholarship upon graduating high school. She went on to graduate from the University of Alabama with a bachelor's degree in journalism and then added a master's degree in English education.
Johnson and her husband, Jeffery, have been married for 22 years. They have three children — Jouri, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Alabama-Birmingham; Jaden, 20-year-old junior at the University of Alabama and Jayme, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Auburn Junior High.
Johnson has been a District Level Strategic Planning Team Member; a U.S. Space Academy counselor; has presented at the National Council of English Teachers Convention; and is a member of the International Honorary Organization for Women Educators.