- Nina Johnson
Program / Year
Master of Arts in Teaching ’18
What led you to enroll at Lewis & Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling?
I attended Lewis & Clark for my undergraduate degree in theatre. When I decided to look into teaching, I checked LC’s website first to see if they offered a MAT in art. Luckily enough they did, and I only looked at a few more Portland schools before deciding to only apply to Lewis & Clark. I was attracted by the full school year practicum placement, and the focus on social justice in education. Both of those things are essential to getting to know students and teaching them well.
Who or what inspired you to pursue your chosen field of study?
I was terrified by the results of the last presidential election. All I could think about was, “How can I make this better? How can I not just mope around for the next 4 years?” I had never thought about becoming a teacher until 2 years ago, and the biggest reason was that I wanted to work with young people and help them make art when the world feels like it’s falling apart. I wanted to be an adult who would listen, and value them as intelligent human beings who have opinions and dreams for the future. I was lucky enough to have some fantastic teachers and school staff in my life in high school, and really wanted to pay that forward.
What does social justice mean to you?
Social justice means equity, not equality. Social justice means recognizing the systems of oppression that still exist in our society, specifically in schools, and actively working against them. Social justice means valuing every student because of their differences in culture and backgrounds, not in spite of them. Social justice is recognizing my own privilege as a white female teacher, and paying attention to my own inherent biases. Social justice means that every student is welcome and wanted in my classroom, and will be given the best possible art education I can manage.
How do you hope to apply your social justice education in your chosen career?
Social justice can be applied in numerous ways in my art classroom. The first and foremost is valuing the inherent differences in students and how they want to make art. My goal is to help students express themselves, not dictate how they must do it. I am also dedicated to using artists of color and queer artists as examples whenever possible. It is so important that all students see themselves in the art field and art history, so that they can know that their artistic inclinations are valid and needed.
Where have you been working/interning as a student, and what does that work entail?
I am currently student teaching at Grant High School in Portland. I’ve been there since the beginning of the year and will be teaching 3/4 of a full teaching load from April until the end of the school year. I am teaching 3 periods of Intro ceramics and sculpture, and 1 period of AP studio art. I met these students on the first day of school, and am so glad that I get to continue my teaching journey with them now. I do all of the lesson planning for these classes, maintain the ceramics studio (with my mentors help), and attend staff meetings of Tuesdays, in addition to the last few classes I am taking at Lewis & Clark. It’s a full schedule, but I love getting into the groove of being at Grant all week.
What is the most fun part of your program?
I really enjoy the students I get to work with. They can be challenging at times, but are fun and fascinating humans, and I love getting to see what they are capable of.
What is the hardest part of your program?
The most challenging aspect of the program is that it is impossible to do everything yourself. Being a student teacher means asking for help from your mentor, your peers, your supervisor, and sometimes even your students. I am the sort of person that prefers to have control of everything, but in this program you have to let that idea of perfection go and just do the best you can with whatever help you can get.
How would you describe your graduate school experience in one sentence?
An emotional rollercoaster of academics, social justice, inter-personal relationships, and a whole lot of love.
Who has been your most influential professor, and why?
I really adore all of the professors I have had in the program, but I have to say that Lina Darwich takes the cake as a stellar teacher and human being. She is so in tune with what her students need, and helps us exude the same quality with our own students. I feel that I am a better, more aware educator because of her kind influence.
What career will you be pursuing after graduation? Did you intend for this to be your career path when you enrolled?
It is my hope to find a part or full time position teaching art somewhere in the Portland area. The dream job would also include some sort of work with the kids on theatre productions (as my other background is in design and technical theatre). But I am open to seeing what the world of education has to offer me. As long as I am helping kids make art, I’m happy.
What do you think of Portland?
I have been in Portland since 2008, when I originally enrolled in the Lewis & Clark undergraduate program. Living on campus was sort of a surreal experience, but once I moved down across the river I discovered a world that has felt like home ever since. Even a move to NYC couldn’t keep me away for very long, and I am dedicated to staying in the Portland area for as long as possible.