Gail Johnson isn’t the only one who decides what’s taught in her class. The students get a say, too.
There’s now more of a focus on student inquiry, letting children pursue their own interests and questions, says the fifth-grade teacher at the Vince Meyer Learning Center in Waukee. This not only motivates students more to learn, it also helps them have a bigger personal stake in their education, which falls into the larger context of Johnson’s teaching philosophy.
Helping build responsibility and independence, both academically and socially, are at the core of her philosophy, Johnson says. That involves teaching students that they should make good choices because it’s the right, and best, thing to do for themselves.
Kids learn how to take ownership of the work they do and to take pride in their accomplishments. They’re given learning targets and the steps they must take to reach those goals.
Socially, they have specific expectations and responsibilities in their classroom community, and they practice those behaviors, Johnson says.
It’s “seeing students make progress and meet their goals” that’s the best part of her job, she says. “I feel like it’s important for them to do things for themselves.”
This is Johnson’s 15th year teaching; this is her 14th year with fifth graders. She’d been teaching fifth graders at Waukee Elementary until the students in that grade level were moved to the Vince Meyer Learning Center in the fall of 2013.
Despite spending years with the same grade, Johnson says staying motivated hasn’t been an issue. Part of that is thanks to Waukee’s “dynamic” school district and its leaders and instructional coaches, who provide the latest and greatest instructional strategies. Johnson adds that taking on different leadership roles have helped her learn things at a deeper level. It’s all part of the continuous refining process teachers go through, she says.
The time and work are well worth it when Johnson runs into her former students out in the community, sees their names on a play program or honor roll list, or hears of them graduating from college.
“I get a lot of enjoyment seeing what they become as a young adult,” she says.