Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

2022 Amazing Educators - Tualatin

Hometown: Tualatin
Why he is an Amazing Educator:
He builds relationships with his students, stressing learning skills over curriculum.

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TEACHING SKILLS OVER CONTENT IS EDUCATOR'S GOAL

Having lived around the world at various points in his life, Steve Johnson is well aware of how best to reach his students — by building relationships and meeting them where they are in their lives.

Johnson, a social studies teacher at Tualatin High School, grew up in Singapore and later taught at international schools in both Shanghai and Casablanca. He met his future wife in Morocco, he said.

Moving back to the United States, the couple settled in North Portland and took what Johnson said was a great opportunity — teaching sophomore world history as well as junior and senior IB history at Tualatin High.

Because of the long commute, he wasn’t initially sure if he would stay at the school for long. But that quickly changed.

“I just love the school so much and the community and the staff,” Johnson said. “Seven years later, I’m still there.”
Johnson said he’s not the type of teacher who holds tightly to teaching a certain content during his class, noting that “the content is always secondary to the skills.” Any student, he pointed out, can look up a historical fact simply by using their cellphone.

The important thing is to teach students to know what they are looking at and how to assess the credibility of information to decide if it’s something they should rely on.

“For me, what I really enjoy doing is developing the skills,” said Johnson.

His teaching goal is to teach students how to write and think effectively along with evaluating the sources of information they use.

Johnson said he believes it’s important to develop relationships with his students.

“Before you can teach a kid anything, you have to build that relationship, because once you have built that relationship, then you can ask things of them, and you want them to feel comfortable to be able to ask things of you,” Johnson said.

 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson has engaged in one-on-one conversations with his students. He kept that up through distance learning, and he’s continued to make it a priority as in-person classes have become the norm once again.

He believes building those relationships helps him to ask more of students as the year goes on.
“I’m comfortable saying, ‘Here’s some things I need from you, or I want you to do,’ and they know it’s coming from a place of, I care about them. I want them to be successful,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he’s found the most effective way to reach students who might initially be unresponsive is to meet them where they are.

“The line I sort of start with kids is, ‘How can I support you?” he said. “And sometimes that means … ‘What I need right now is to have my space and just to sit here for a minute,’ and you’re like, ‘OK, for today, that’s totally fine and we’ll build into the next day,’” and then see what happens after that.

He said he’s had students who work 30 hours per week on top of school. They’re exhausted and often just don’t want to engage in class, he said.

With that in mind, Johnson always has an open box of granola bars that he offers to any student who needs something to get them through his class.

“It’s a simple thing, but a hungry kid is not a kid who can learn,” Johnson said, adding that the snacks are a gesture to prove that his class is a safe place and students know he cares about them.

Johnson is currently studying to get a doctorate in education at Portland State University, with a focus on curriculum instruction.

One student summed up why they think Johnson is a good teacher this way: “He’s being really thoughtful about putting materials on Canvas, checking in with students, moving deadlines to accommodate circumstances. It’s clear that he puts a lot of intention into his work and pushes us to put forward our best work.”

“I think for me, what I’ve really enjoyed about teaching at Tualatin is … you feel the social impact of your job more. You know that you’re helping, and for some of these kids, you know you are the most stable part of their life,” Johnson said.