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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!

Jean Johnson of Rockford has been teaching for 11 years. She teaches Third Grade Gifted at Thurgood Marshall Elementary.  She started her career as a student teacher under the mentorship of a Golden Apple Academy member who impressed upon her that, “The children are the most important thing. Teachers can cover a textbook, can have fancy borders and posters, can know subject areas inside and out, but what matters most is the children and my ability to know them.” A parent of one of Jean’s former students shared an example of how Jean succeeds at this. This student has autism spectrum disorder. At back to school night, Jean asked about books or resources to learn more about his challenges and how to bring out the best in him. “Jean was the first teacher to ever ask; she remains the only teacher to have done so. Asking us for ideas was a plus in our book, but she actually did the research and worked to really understand how the diagnosis affected him.” Jean was able to tailor lesson plans for him and even helped him develop friendships with classmates, a connection he had struggled with in the past. Jean truly fosters the sense of community in “their” classroom – never calling it just “her” classroom. Students are empowered to make decisions, express opinions and work toward solutions that affect them. She encourages them to express what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. Last year, her students expressed that the playground, originally designed for Pre-K students, was not meeting their needs. Instead of just complaining, they used their STEM skills to think critically, problem solve and do the research. They looked at the equipment’s pros and cons, costs, space limitations and requirements and more. They even found a potential funding source! These students took their findings to the principal, who listened, then went to the PTO. The group agreed to pay for the playground project, which will be built this spring. The parent further stated that, “A teacher can learn the technical aspects of being a teacher – writing lesson plans, selecting appropriate materials, grading homework, etc. It is the unique and special connection that a teacher makes with a student that you cannot teach. It is that trait that makes a good teacher a phenomenal teacher. Jean Johnson is a phenomenal teacher."