by Joshua Johnson ’10
If at any point during my time as a student at St. Lawrence
you had told me I would spend my next few years in front
of 75 middle-schoolers every day in an urban charter
school in Washington, D.C., I probably would have laughed
at you. But that’s right where I landed.
This had never been my intended path, but I have truly
come to appreciate the unexpected surprises that life
throws your way. Shortly after graduating as a chemistry
major, I was whisked away to Philadelphia to begin training
to become a teacher with Teach For America. TFA places
teachers in high-need areas, with the belief that “one day,
all children in this nation will have the opportunity to at-
tain an excellent education.” I was assigned to Washington,
where I began my new life and career.
There is really nothing anyone can say or do that can
prepare you for your first year as a teacher. However, I
believe that the liberal arts curriculum and opportunities
that I had at St. Lawrence put me on an excellent trajec-
tory to support and engage my students. Studying abroad
opened my eyes to new cultures, ways of life and educa-
tion throughout the world. My chemistry classes gave me
the critical thinking and analytical skills to create engag-
ing lesson plans in all realms of science. Working for the
admissions office helped me support my students as they
strive to attend the best high schools D.C. has to offer.
Was I 100 percent prepared to dive into the classroom?
No, and I don’t believe that anyone truly is. But teaching
is a constant learning process, and I have learned from
all of my experiences, including my mistakes. I have built
greenhouses, taken my kids to sites in our nation’s capital,
performed lab investigations, organized an entire middle
school camping trip, and sent students on to win their cat-
egories at the D.C.-wide science fair. I have been a shoul-
der to cry on – and shed a tear or two myself. I have seen
harsh realities and great successes among my students and
their communities.
Yes, I would have scoffed had you told me five years ago
that this was what I would be doing. Now, it is hard to
imagine doing anything else. I have come to believe that
St. Lawrence not only prepares its students to become ex-
perts in their fields, but also equips each of us with a toolkit
of transferable skills and attributes, which opens limitless
doors. Do not be afraid to walk through any open door,
even if it is not the one you’ve always anticipated going
In two short years, Josh Johnson’s students’ passing rate on
D.C. tests has climbed from 28 percent to more than 71 per-
cent. He has been awarded Youth Service America’s National
Young Educator of the Year Award and the D.C. Association
of Chartered Public Schools' Most Outstanding Middle School
Teacher of the Year Award. This year he will participate in
the Emerging Leaders Program from New Leaders for New
Schools, which sets up successful teachers on a path toward
further leadership and potential administration roles.
open doors
On Global Youth Service Day, Josh Johnson ’10, front row right,
along with his students, fellow teachers and Americorps volun-
teers, built an outdoor classroom and constructed a class garden
with rain barrel irrigation at the Washington, D.C., charter school
where he is a Teach for America science instructor.
appreciate the
unexpected surprises