Tania Johnson, a teaching veteran who has worked to make a difference for generations of students and fellow educators, is the 2013 Iowa Teacher of the Year, Gov. Terry Branstad announced Wednesday in Cedar Rapids.
“Great teachers see the big picture in education as well as the potential in every student,” Branstad said. “They are essential to achieve our goal of giving all children in Iowa a world-class education. The Lt. Governor and I congratulate Tania Johnson and thank her for being a role model to students, to aspiring teachers and to her colleagues.”
Johnson spent most of her 22-year teaching career in Cedar Rapids kindergarten classrooms before she accepted a teacher leadership position in the school district this fall. A Cedar Rapids native who was inspired by her own teachers to pursue a career in education, Johnson is best known for going above and beyond her work in the classroom and the hours in a school day.
In Johnson’s classrooms, students have found equal parts structure and creativity, high expectations and encouragement. Her students have learned the value of helping others through service projects, such as collecting hats and mittens for a local women’s shelter. Johnson often is invited to celebrate the high school graduation of students she taught as kindergartners. In Johnson, parents have found an open door, as well as an expectation that what is taught in school is reinforced at home.
“Today, teaching cannot be done with the door closed,” Johnson wrote in her Teacher of the Year application. “It is a team sport. Everyone must work together to accomplish the goal of learning.”
Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds applauded Johnson’s ability to personalize instruction for students who entered kindergarten with different starting points. “Tania Johnson has given generations of children a great start in education, regardless of their backgrounds,” Reynolds said. “She truly demonstrates the huge impact a great teacher can have on children’s lives.”
Johnson has been a role model for her colleagues as well. She has mentored kindergarten teachers, opened her classroom to student teachers and has held leadership roles in after-school programs and organizations such as the Jackson Elementary Parent Teacher Association and the Cedar Rapids Education Association. Johnson was named Linn County Educator of the Year in 2006 and earned National Board Certification in 2007.
“The greatest teachers inspire their students and other educators to keep learning and growing,” said Jason Glass, the Iowa Department of Education director. “We look to the leadership of Tania Johnson and many other excellent educators to help move Iowa’s education system forward.”
Johnson started her teaching career in Cedar Rapids in 1990 and remained in the school district with the exception of a one-year teaching opportunity in Brighton, England, on a Fulbright Teacher Exchange Scholarship. From 1994 through last May, Johnson taught kindergarten at Jackson and Coolidge elementary schools.
She was nominated in May by Jamie Cummins, a Cedar Rapids teacher whose children were in Johnson’s kindergarten class at Jackson Elementary School.
“Tania Johnson is the perfect marriage of traditional teaching values and modern differentiated techniques,” Cummins said. “She truly sets the benchmark for what the standard of teaching should be in Iowa and the nation.”
Cedar Rapids Superintendent Dave Benson said: “Tania’s high expectations, love of learning and innovative teaching style have been a gift to so many students, and her vision and leadership will continue to generate respect from her colleagues and success in Cedar Rapids schools for years to come.”
In her new position, Tania will work to make a difference for students by supporting their teachers. As the school district’s Teacher Quality Liaison, Tania specializes in connecting Cedar Rapids teachers with professional development activities. She also has kept a presence in the classroom as a permanent substitute teacher at Arthur Elementary School in Cedar Rapids.
“I believe that I will positively impact even more students as I focus on helping teachers and the profession,” Johnson said. “I look forward to learning and growing as a professional in my new role while also staying connected with students in the classroom.”
Finalists for the Iowa Teacher of the Year award are:
- Heather Anderson, who teaches grades 1-3 at Cowles Montessori School in Windsor Heights (Des Moines Public Schools)
- Christine Green, a 7th grade science teacher at North Scott Junior High School in Eldridge
- Matt Heston, a mathematics teacher at Knoxville High School in Knoxville
- Joshua Steenhoek, a 5th grade math and science teacher at Jefferson Intermediate School in Pella
Johnson was chosen by a committee that includes representatives from the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa State Education Association, the School Administrators of Iowa, the Parent Teachers Association and 2012 Iowa Teacher of the Year Charity Campbell.
Johnson and the finalists will be honored at a luncheon for outstanding Iowa teachers on Oct. 26 at the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines. Her tenure as Iowa Teacher of the Year will begin in January.
The Iowa Teacher of the Year award was established in 1958. The annual program is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education through an appropriation from the Iowa Legislature. Honorees serve as ambassadors to education and act as liaisons to primary and secondary schools, higher education and organizations across the state.