Kimberly Johnson, a lifelong educator and study skills teacher at Auburn Junior High School, is finishing her term as Alabama’s 2021-2022 Teacher of the Year, for which she served as a full-time ambassador for education. This school year, she made presentations to principals, gave keynote addresses, judged contests and met one-on-one with individual teachers, all in the name of improving educational opportunities for students and teachers alike.
After high school, the Anniston native earned a degree in communications, but realized she wasn’t cut out for journalism. She started substitute teaching after college and found her calling. “I loved reading, writing, and especially working with young people,” she says.
She and her husband Jeffrey have made their home in Auburn for the last 18 years. They are proud of their three children – Jouri, 24, Jaden, 20, and Jayme, 14 – but she’s also proud of her “school family,” to which she will return when she completes her term as Teacher of the Year this month. – Allison Law
Let’s start with where you grew up, and about your family?
I grew up in Anniston, Ala. I am a church girl. I grew up attending Greater Thankful Missionary Baptist Church – the definition of a neighborhood/family church. My entire family attended the same church – all four grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins.
My parents, Nelson Christian, Sr. and Sophia Christian, were middle school sweethearts and will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary this year. I have a younger brother, Nelson Christian, Jr. My mom was in the first integrated graduating class at Walter Wellborn High School.
What is your educational background?
I was a quiet student who read a lot and was always a people pleaser, so my teachers liked me and school was fun for me. In junior high, I was encouraged by Mrs. Mary Waldrep (one of the kindest, sweetest teachers to walk the earth) to try out for the cheer team. There was no black representation in my grade. I had absolutely no experience, but she would stay late to practice with me. I made the team in 7th grade and was the only black cheerleader on my team 7th through 12th grades.
That experience was one that made my family and community proud, but it also instilled in me lots of foundations that I stand on today.
• We have to truly see our students to understand and nurture their potential and possibilities.
• Representation matters.
• Kindness, care, and time are what students remember from their teachers.
• I can do anything! I may have to work longer and harder than the next person, but if I am willing and have the desire to accomplish a feat, I can do it.
I loved writing and excelled in English classes. I wrote for my high school newspaper and was encouraged by Mrs. Ruth Mitchell, my 7th and 12th grade English teacher, to explore journalism.
Did you always want to be an educator?
I attended the University of Alabama and graduated with a degree in Communications/Public Relations in December 1994. I wasn’t passionate about working as a newspaper journalist, and I ended up substitute teaching right after graduation.
Teaching was my calling! I loved reading, writing, and especially working with young people. I applied for graduate school within months of subbing. I moved to Huntsville in 1996 to complete a fifth-year master’s program in English Language Arts education at Alabama A&M University.
You’re a study skills teacher at Auburn Junior High. Tell me about that subject, and is that a subject you wanted to teach?
I taught English Language Arts to eighth-graders for 18 years. I thought I would retire an eighth-grade English teacher. I love connecting with students and helping them to make sense of the world around them through reading and writing.
In study skills we focus on goal setting, time management, and motivation. There’s lots of time for group discussions about any topic – school or life related. I spend a great deal of time building a classroom community or safe-space. We also work on building and strengthening reading and math skills through practice and online work. Finally, I provide one-on-one tutoring and help to my students so they can keep up with assignments for their core classes.
Tell us about this past year.
I had the opportunity to spend this school year sharing my unique experience as an educator with others while at the same time serving as the representative for all public educators across our state as the 2021-2022 Alabama Teacher of the Year.
As the state teacher of the year, I am the applicant for National Teacher of the Year. They have announced the four finalists and unfortunately, I am not one. With that said, I am a part of the 2022 National Teacher of the Year Cohort sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) where all of the nation’s state teachers of the year meet and collaborate and travel together.
I have truly tried to take in the experience and enjoy every moment. It is an honor of a lifetime, and I truly appreciate every hard-working moment of it.
What has been the most gratifying part of your Teacher of the Year experience?
Hopefully my words of love, encouragement, and infinite possibilities turning into action.