- Nina Johnson
Program / Year
Master of Arts in Teaching ’18
Secondary English Language Arts
West Linn, OR
What led you to enroll at Lewis & Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling?
I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I also knew that social justice was important to me, the classroom, and education in general. I also had some amazing teachers that went to Lewis and Clark’s program and recommended it.
Who or what inspired you to pursue your chosen field of study?
I wanted to pursue teaching because I believe in the power of education. I care deeply for those around me, and I want to work hard to help mold students who are not only confident in forming a strong thesis, but strong opinions and voices as well. I believe that teachings and lessons need to strive to go beyond the walls of a classroom, and into the lives of each student that they reach. I see our world struggling for change, and I believe that this can be aided by strong thinkers. I want students to not only understand their own world, but the worlds of others. I believe that our society can benefit from students who strive to think beyond themselves and their own needs. An English classroom provides the perfect opportunity to expose students to different cultures, beliefs, as well and racial and gender struggles through the material that is read and discussed. I was lucky enough to have two high school English teachers who both attended Lewis & Clark College, and both strived to bring important life lessons and views into the classroom, alongside with the required material. A key issue that has led me to pursue my education in this area is the fact that some classrooms primary focus on creating good test-takers, and good rule-followers rather than individuals, and creative thinkers. While tests are unavoidable within most academic environments, I don’t believe they should be the sole focus within a classroom. Instead, I believe the focus should be placed on supporting students to grow, and challenge their ideas as learners. We should be encouraging and pushing students to expand their minds and philosophies in a way that will help build the foundation for strong citizens that contribute to our world with their understanding and kindness, as well as with their strength of character. When good education is provided by teachers who care, a new generation of hope and kindness can prevail.
What does social justice mean to you?
To me, social justice means that everyone has an equal opportunity to work hard, and benefit from their hard work. Despite ones background, or previous failures, there is and are opportunities for success, and for hard work to pay-off. Social justice to me means that biggest roadblock in between someone and their dreams is themselves, not money, race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, disability, or anything else.
How do you hope to apply your social justice education in your chosen career?
I apply social justice within my chosen career by being an equitable educator, and providing as many opportunities for success as I can. I take into account all of my students, their backgrounds, struggles, needs, and try to find a way to meet all of them, and help them grow. I practice differentiating my instruction, and listening to my students needs (even when they don’t directly state them). But perhaps most importantly, I know that as a teacher, I am also a forever-student. And I try to learn as much as I can, from as many people I can. I know that I’m never done growing, and learning.
Where have you been working/interning as a student, and what does that work entail?
I have been working/interning at Clackamas High School. I am currently the lead teacher for four separate English 12 classes. I lesson plan, teach the lessons I plan, grade, work with students one-on-one, and build amazing relationships with insightful, and complex individuals. I am a full-time learner, planner, teacher, and advocate!
What is the most fun part of your program?
THE STUDENTS! They are the best thing about teaching. The jokes they make, and insights they have are heart-warming. I can’t even explain the feeling I get when I see that all the heard work I’ve put into building individual relationships with students has paid off. It makes me smile on the drive home when I’m stuck in traffic. The most fun part of my program is getting to see my hard work have a positive impact on the students I work with. There’s nothing like it.
What is the hardest part of your program?
The hardest part of the program is trying to balance everything you need to do, want to do, and realistically can do. And everyone is so inspiring that you always feel like you want to do more, but you have to learn when to draw the line, and know that you’re doing the best you can.
How would you describe your graduate school experience in one sentence?
It’s like being sleep-deprived, stretched-thin, and stressed, but the success gives you energy, the professors give you support, and your classmates/program friends provide you with love and laughs, so it always weirdly balances out for the better.
Who has been your most influential professor, and why?
KIMBERLY CAMPBELL!!! Since I’ve had the pleasure of having her as a professor, I’ve said, “I want to be like Kim when I grow-up.” Her out-look on education, compassion, kindness, and flexibility is beyond inspiring. She is one of those teachers that truly leaves a mark on your life. She’s the kind of teacher that motivates students intrinsically. She sees the best in every student, and genuinely cares. Kimberly is truly my teaching inspiration, and I hope that I can leave a fraction of the impact that she has.
What is a unique perspective you bring to your cohort?
Having gone to primary, middle, and high school in a more affluent area, I feel like I bring in the perspective that EVERY student needs, and deserves a good teacher. Because this program is social justice centered, everyone here cares deeply about equity and groups who have been traditionally marginalized. It can sometimes feel like everyone wants to root for the “under-dog.” And while I completely support this, I also feel like I remind others that EVERY student deserves an advocate and genuinely good education, regardless of their financial background. Each student deserves to have teachers that root for them.
What career will you be pursuing after graduation? Did you intend for this to be your career path when you enrolled?
An English teacher! Preferably at the high school level, but I’m still open to middle school as well. I enrolled at Lewis and Clark to pursue this very career path.
Describe an "ah-ha" or "right-turn" moment you have experienced here - a time when your perspective, opinion, outlook, or goals changed suddenly due to a specific experience.
This program always advocates for building good relationships with your students, and truly working to know them as individuals, but I don’t think I truly understood the value until I experienced it. Having those solid student relationships changes not only how your class responds to you, but how you teach as well. And it’s not just creating those bonds, and caring for them as well. It’s a lot of emotional work at times, but it truly makes the job worth it. When I noticed my classrooms energy change because they understood that I genuinely cared for them, it really highlighted the vast importance of establishing healthy and positive relationships early on. And it’s beyond rewarding.
What do you think of Portland?
I love Portland :) Portland is a beautiful green city that brings together so many different people of different background. I love that you get the convince and excitement of a city, without having to give-up the scenery and peace of a more rural area. You can go for a beautiful hike by waterfalls, and then go to a nice dinner in the city the same day. There’s something for everyone.
Anything else you would like to add about your family, background, plans, etc.?
Follow your true interests. I went to school to try and be a nurse, but my heart wasn’t in the material, or the work. It makes a difference how hard you’ll work, and how enjoyable you’ll find that work when your heart is genuinely invested. I have no doubts that I found my calling!