Behind the apple -- Keith Johnson, Rollings Middle School of the Arts
It is clear that 33-yar-old Keith Johnson of Summerville loves what he is doing…teaching English Language Arts to seventh graders at Rollings.
In fact, he has had teaching in the back of his mind since he was in seventh grade.
“I remember being in seventh grade and thinking ‘If I were a teacher, I would do it this way…’.”
Johnson moved to the area in 1989. His dad was in the Navy and he retired here. Johnson graduated from Summerville High School and then attended Graceland University in Iowa from which he graduated with a BA in English and Communications with an emphasis on writing. He worked on his school newspaper while in college. He minored in Spanish. His grandfather is from Puerto Rico.
“I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher out of college,” he says, “but I knew I wanted to write and do something related to English and the arts. I took some time subbing.”
“I really enjoyed the process of learning…I’ve always been drawn to learning, I loved college, loved taking classes and helping others through the process. I realized I would like to do it full time.”
However, he says, he thinks every teacher and most certainly every administrator ought to substitute teach to get an appreciation for how it is for subs.
So, he went back to school at the College of Charleston and got an “asterisk” on his diploma that said he had the requisite classes needed to teach.
After student teaching at Baptist Hill High School in Hollywood, he got a call from Sam Clark (then principal of Alston Middle School) “out of the blue. He must have seen me on the state list. He interviewed me,” says Johnson, “and liked me and recommended me to the other principals.”
Johnson had subbed at Fort Dorchester High School under Assistant Principal Elena Furnari. “She was principal at Rollings and she remembered me and had an unexpected opening in seventh grade English and I fell into it.”
“I never thought I would teach middle school and seventh grade to boot.”
Johnson says he always pictured himself at the high school level but he loves middle school now.
In addition to teaching he is a Coach for the Quest writing competition, in the process of starting a filmmakers club, has served on curriculum committees and helped create DD2 benchmarks, revising them toward critical thinking and skills to better prepare students for work and college ensuring they are in line with Common Core.
He works with the Knighthouse [Lighthouse] Team helping to integrate and teach students the seven habits of highly effective people skills, core values for living and life skills.
He also writes the faculty plays that are an annual event around Halloween. “They are a bit musical and a lot of silliness,” he says. The students love them.
He has been nominated as Teacher of the Year every year and was a school finalist in 2011/2012.
“I have been really lucky,” he says, “to be teaching at a great school and to have the kids that I have.”
“Any time I see a student succeed…go to a Governor’s School, be honored…if I had a tiny part of helping that success, that student find their identity, appreciate learning, I feel rewarded.”
When he is not teaching he and his wife Sarah - a second grade teacher at Spann - spend their time parenting their two girls - Keira, 5 and Scarlett, 1. They also parent their cat, Olivia.
“I spend a lot of time reading and writing - short stories, a blog, the faculty play - it’s cathartic for me…just getting thoughts on paper.
He is CFO for his church and he and Sarah love to take their girls to the beach, the park and on trips to visit friends and family.
He loves baseball and is a Braves fan, enjoys football and is a Carolina Panthers fan.
Back in middle school he played the trumpet but now he only sings. Occasionally he enjoys cooking - “nothing phenomenal, but I love grilling…charcoal not that gas stuff…I am old school.”
His professional goal is to always make things relevant for students. He also hopes to get his masters and PhD and maybe eventually teach at the high school or college level.
“I love teaching too much to not teach…I gotta teach!”
“It’s not the pay or acknowledgements or recognition,” he says, “it’s to see the light bulbs go on.”
“When a kid says ‘that was cool, thank you’ it makes your day.”
“Because I enjoy writing, I would like to be a writer, in some form. My priorities for my family are my children to help them meet their potential and be who they want to be.”