It seems that something was always guiding Andrea Johnson toward teaching. The affable and charming Johnson is currently undergoing her student teaching internship in Aldine ISD at Gray Elementary School. The training forms part of her degree plan with the Texas Tech University.
Johnson recalls playing school at her apartment complex as a child with her friends. She was always the teacher. But growing up, she found herself working in other fields. The years passed by and she married and had children. Johnson was also active in her church where she taught Sunday school for a few years. When she stopped working with kids at her church, she felt she had lost her joy. She missed interacting with children.
Then Johnson saw a sign driving home. Aldine ISD was looking for bus drivers. Driving a bus was actually on Johnson’s bucket list. She recalls her first day as a bus driver: Oct. 21, 2013. The work hours were long — the day would start at 5 a.m. and end at 6 p.m. or later — but Johnson enjoyed being of service to others.
“I had so much fun,” said Johnson. “It was hard work, but it was one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had. I considered myself one of the happiest bus drivers alive. I loved it.“
During those rides to and from school, Johnson would take advantage to talk to students. She would take those 15 minutes in the mornings and afternoons to ask them about school and what they had learned.
In 2016-2017, Johnson met Ferrell who was a fifth-grade student at the time. Ferrell had heard all her questions and stories. One day while waiting for students to board from another school, Ferrell asked, “Mrs. Johnson, why don’t you become a teacher?”
Johnson was a bit taken aback by the question. She responded, “But I am a teacher.” Ferrell pointed to a teacher walking out of the school and said, “She is a teacher. You are a bus driver.”
Up to that point, Johnson had been taking two college classes here and there. She thought she would be 80 years old by the time she finished her degree and would be in a classroom. Ferrell’s voice kept gnawing at her every morning. She had to ask why she didn’t move forward to make her dream of teaching a reality sooner.
While she was a bus driver, she received an email from the District about the Texas Tech University program TechTeach Across Texas. It was an opportunity for those with an associate degree. The email remained in her inbox for a long time. It was Ferrell’s words that encouraged her to open the email.
She read about TechTeach Across Texas. The fast-track, one-year teacher preparation program, combines intense clinical experiences with applicable online courses in district-based partnerships around the state. Learning that there might be a possibility of a scholarship to pay for her education, she realized that her time was now to focus on her goals.
“It was a bitter-sweet moment because I was the happiest bus driver,” said Johnson. “I then realized that the children would not be behind me as I looked in the mirror of a bus. The kids would be in front of me in a classroom.
“I buckled down to improve my GPA of 3.3. to meet the minimum requirement of a 3.5 or higher for the program,” said Johnson. “After completing the 12 classes that I needed to satisfy, I ended up graduating from Lone Star College Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA.“
With her AA under her belt and the grades, Johnson qualified to receive financial aid in the amount of $6,500 as part of the program. That year, it was decided that because she and others were in Texas Tech’s 2+1 program, that figure doubled to $13,000. She kept her grades up so that she could continue to get different scholarships.
Since making the decision to focus on her teaching degree, Johnson stated she has been on cloud nine with every experience on her journey fulfilling her more than she thought possible.
There were many school districts Johnson could have chosen to undergo her student teaching experience, but she chose Aldine ISD. Her daughters had attended AISD schools. She describes Aldine as a family-oriented workplace. Even as a bus driver, she ran into people who had worked 20 or 30 years for the District. Her own site coordinator started as a teacher before moving up to the role of principal and is now teaching aspiring teachers how to teach.
Johnson describes the work as rigorous for TechTeach Across Texas but feels that her passion for teaching will carry her through the program. She is also learning to adapt. Johnson is noting how teaching has changed since her day as a student in the classroom. Teachers are no longer lecturing in front of the class. Instead, teachers act as facilitators of learning. And today’s teachers are integrating technology in the classroom.
“The students are learning to be creative and they are coming up with different ideas to learn a concept,” said Johnson. “It is fascinating. There is never a dull moment. I am also learning how important it is to build positive relationships. Children are so appreciative when you make time for them. What I am doing is truly rewarding. I am able to do what I love.“
Johnson said that she could not have done it without the support of her family.
“I think everyone knows I am happier than ever,” added Johnson. “When I am in the classroom, it doesn’t feel like work. I am having so much fun! There are days I feel tired, but I remember my purpose and get re-energized. I have this philosophy: If you keep your passion for what you are doing, you will stay focused and purposeful. Sometimes you just have to change your perspective. Are you helping someone? To me helping others is purposeful.“
Not only does Johnson feel supported by her family, but she also feels supported by Aldine through Human Resources’ orientation and training, educators who understand what she is going through, and fellow student teachers. She enjoys learning from others. And she relishes working with her teachers in the classroom.
“You cannot put a price on this phenomenal experience,” describes Johnson.”I absolutely love that I am able to apply what I learn online in the classroom. You see what works and you get to collaborate.“
In summer 2019, she will observe and “solo” teach at a prekindergarten classroom. In Johnson’s own words, she is experiencing the “full gamut” of the primary years.
Perhaps Johnson was always meant to be a teacher. She points to her mom as her biggest influence. The Sunday school teacher loved to read and instilled that love of reading in Johnson. Johnson’s mom also corrected her children’s grammar mistakes and pronunciation errors.
“Yes, teaching was always in my DNA,” said Johnson. “I just didn’t acknowledge it until Ferrell who said ‘you love this go for it.’ So I guess you can say this has been in the making for years.“
Johnson hopes her story inspires others.
“I am truly one happy, blessed woman,” said Johnson. “I want to spread that joy. I want people to acknowledge what they really want to do. It took a 10-year-old to help me realize my dream. I hope others realize their dreams can become a reality. I said ‘yes’ to my dream and it was like the waters parted. It has truly been an unbelievable journey. If I can do it, anybody can do it.“
There is one thing she wants to drive in her students: self-efficacy. Johnson wants students to take ownership of their own learning. She wants them to dig deep inside of themselves, and be the best them that they can be. Teachers at times want to give directions to get students to a point. But some students don’t even know where they are. A teacher’s role is to figure out where students are in their learning and growth. Teachers can then set goals for each child. Students must realize what they can do once they achieve their goals. At that point, the light bulb goes off and there is no stopping them.
“Yes, my students will be learning some math, spelling and science, but I want them to be self-starters,” said Johnson. “With children, you have to earn their respect. Once they realize that you care about them, that you believe in them … they will go to the moon for you.
“They will do whatever it takes because they know that finally, someone believes in them. They will focus on that and prove that they can do it. They may even surprise themselves. It catapults them to greatness.“
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