Let’s be real here. It’s difficult to enjoy writing those 700-word essays some English teachers assign over winter break, or reading dreadful nine-page documents that have to be memorized over one week; but truthfully, teachers despise them just as much as students do. Yes, seriously. The English teachers on campus are always looking to change the curriculum to better suit the learning needs of students. Whether it be film making, storytelling, or creative writing, our educators are always looking to show us how enjoyable English can be.
One teacher that truly epitomizes what it means to be an innovative teacher is Cerissa Johnson. As the tenth-grade Pre-AP curriculum lead, her dynamic and unique way of teaching is unparalleled and truly leaves a mark on students.
“She’s awesome,” one of her students, sophomore Hannah Ongmachi said. “She’s very excited about the subject that she teaches, and it makes me excited about it too.”
This is Johnson’s sixth year teaching at Timber Creek, and her excitement to see her students each day never dims nor fades. Johnson truly sees every student as a new opportunity to inspire someone.
When asked about what motivates her, Johnson explained, “to see the students when they are able to recognize something new, those light bulb moments. Also, when I have former students continually come back to me, just to hang out & chit chat. Really just to have that community and relationship there, and being able to stay in touch with them beyond their high school years and to see the progress that they’ve committed to and how their lives are going.”
Through Johnson’s unique style of teaching and kind soul, she is able to create diverse lesson plans that engage every student, but also create a permanent bond with students that will last a lifetime.
While Johnson’s ability to create engaging lessons for sophomores is quite impeccable, another example of a great English teacher is Jake Maddox. He is the ninth-grade on-level curriculum lead. To him, the key to finding success in a job, based so heavily around students and curriculum, is finding a healthy balance between the two.
“There’s a lot of people that come into teaching and they love the content. [They’re] super passionate about English or biology or mathematics and stuff, or they just want to save every little child, and they’re so passionate about the youth growing and growing kids’ characters and empathy and stuff like that,” Maddox said. “You have to have a balance between both of those.”
Maddox is often referred to as the “fun teacher” by his students, both present and previous. His outgoing, humorous, and likable personality helps bridge the gap between the students and the content in which he presents.
“He was awesome, [and is] always making sure that his students were on the right track and that they did well in his classes,” one of Maddox’s former students, Zack Faubel said. “He is really funny and always helpful.”
Maddox believes that the best way to get your students interested in the lessons is to truly love the material yourself.
“In order to have the kids engaged in the content that you’re trying to teach them, you have to be passionate about that content yourself.” Maddox said. “I mean, you have to seriously love it because the kids can sniff out the fake easy. You have to seriously believe in everything you’re teaching.”
At the end of the day, Maddox, like many other teachers, focuses on his students’ well-being before the curriculum.
“I think the little things that get me through the day [are] when the kids walk through the door and they, you know, they high five [you] and they look forward to like a handshake [or] a chest bump… just stuff like that. [It] makes this job way different than any other job,” Maddox said. “In no other job [do you] walk from your office to the bathroom and get like 12 high fives and a bunch of people interrupting your conversation just to see and hear you. Stuff like that just makes this job super unique and amazing.”
Maddox’s ability to create a lasting impact on a diverse group of people truly sets him apart. He is both an incredible friend, role model, and teacher. Another example of an exemplary ninth grade English teacher is Beth Brentlinger. Although she didn’t originally plan to become an English teacher, it was working in the field which made her realize her true passion for working with the youths.
“I actually kind of always thought about [teaching], but it wasn’t when I was in high school. Just before I enrolled in college, I almost switched my major from radio, TV, and film to education, but [there] was just something about me that always wanted to do the media stuff,” Brentlinger said. “So I went ahead and majored in it, and I worked on the radio for two years.”
Once Brentlinger began working on the radio she “knew it wasn’t for [her],” and quite that job to pursue teaching. While it wasn’t an easy transition to her new job, Brentlinger finds joy in the little things that come with teaching.
“I love what I do. I mean, I don’t look at it necessarily as being underpaid or, you know, things like that. It definitely gets busy sometimes when I have a bunch to grade, but I love the kids,” she said. “One of my favorite things is when a kid has been struggling with something, and you see that light bulb go off where they finally get it.”
Bretlinger’s compassion has affected many throughout her career, one being former student Grace Measles, who had a lot to say about her loving personality.
“I really really liked her. She was really nice. Although I didn’t know very many people in the class, she still found a way to keep me engaged,” Measles said. “I was late every day due to KCAL, but she still found a way to [keep me] caught up with every lesson, and she really seemed to be enjoying what she taught. I think that’s really important in a teacher.”
After talking to Brentlinger for a few short minutes, her friendly disposition has the tendency to make one leave the conversation feeling better than they did before. Similarly, one of the many things that makes Pre-AP English teacher Chelsea Wright stand out to her students is the way she can turn a classroom into a family in just a short amount of time.
“I think the key to teaching is just the relationships that establish an entire community in the classroom,” Wright said. “When you treat teenagers like the young adults that they are, it just creates an understanding environment where [they] respect you. And if you can just respect me enough to give me your time and attention, we can do this together.”
One sophomore who was deeply impacted by the teacher was Wright’s former student Emily Haes.
“She was really good at teaching us how to do précis (writing activities), and I think she genuinely cared about her students by the way she was pushing them to do their best,” Haes said. “She really wanted the best for us.”
After being inspired to teach by her sophomore English teacher, Wright became a Pre-AP English teacher at Timber Creek in 2014. As a very joyous person, Wright finds motivation in the smallest ways. Even though there are the all-nighters pulled grading and filing, Wright is reminded every day of her motivation.
“It’s definitely all about the students. It’s anytime that a previous student comes by and says hi or ‘I missed your class’ or smiles at me in the hallway that definitely does make it worth it. Just to know that you can have an impact on someone,” Wright said. “You may not be able to reach everybody, but at least for some students, you are able to reach out to them, so that’s a really cool feeling.”
While not every student has been taught by Wright, she treats everyone she meets with respect and is a role model any student can to look up to.
While my time with some of these teachers was short, the relationships I’ve made and the things I’ve learned through them are truly unparalleled to any other group of educators I’ve met. Even though there are plenty of other inspiring upper-level English teachers a part of the Falcon Family, through the small sample size I interviewed, I was left in awe at the stories I heard and the morals I gained. These folks that you’ll find lounging outside their doors in central hall are more than just teachers; they are leaders, they are friends, and they are role models.