Teacher Testimony: I thought I would never be a teacher
Teachers certified through American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence come from various walks of life and choose to become an educator for a wide variety of reasons. For Chelsea Johnson, a near-death experience helped her realize her calling in life.
Chelsea earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry and was preparing to go to dental school so she could pursue her dream of becoming a dentist. Then, she collapsed during a basketball game and woke up to find out she was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. After being in and out of the hospital, she moved back to her hometown in Florida to be with family and find her footing again. She took a teaching job in nearby Gasden County while trying to figure out the next step of her career path.
“I loved it…but I was in the mind set that I didn’t want to teach,” Chelsea said.
She then was hired on at a well-known phone company where she rose to a management position. In her spare time, she was the girls’ basketball coach at the local high school she graduated from.
“One day I was walking through campus after practice and the principal saw me. She asked me about my job and if I had a degree. I told her I had a degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry,” Chelsea said. “She asked me if I would like to teach. I gave it some thought and I applied.”
Entering the classroom
Chelsea received a job at an alternative school and taught there for a year before moving into an open position at her alma mater where she was still coaching basketball. She now teaches Biology, Physical Science, and Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science there.
She grew up watching her mother, now a 39-year veteran of teaching, put in hard work to help her students and the toll the job could take on her sometimes. At a young age, Chelsea decided she did not want to follow in her mother’s footsteps
“If you had talked to me eight years ago I would have told you, ‘you’re crazy, I’ll never be a teacher’,” Chelsea said.
But, Chelsea said, she knew she was called to teaching and was choosing to run from it. Her brain aneurysm changed her path because she felt she had been spared from death for a reason.
“I knew for a long time I was running from my purpose, which was to mold youth. To know now that I’m doing God’s will and every day I’m seeing the fruit of my labor and his will being done, not just for me but for my kids. I never feel like I’m coming to work; I feel like I’m living out my purpose and my purpose has become my dream,” Chelsea said.
The perception she had of her mother’s job was what made her decide to not become a teacher, Chelsea said. Now, she emphasizes the importance of perception to her students.
“Every year I give my kids a lesson on perception. They are looking at an event [on video], but there is no sound and they have to decide what they think is taking place. I get a wide variety of answers and nobody is right because they’re missing an important piece,” Chelsea said. “I think that’s what people who aren’t in education see. They see the days that teachers vent, but they don’t get to see what takes place in the classroom. They don’t see the student who’s taking numerous attempts at a test and you finally get to tell them they passed. When you open up and highlight those scenarios, they get to see education isn’t a negative career path.”
“You have to want to see them do better”
However, being an educator isn’t for everyone, she said.
“We say nursing is not a profession you can be in just to get a check; if it’s not in your heart to do it, you will wither away. Education is the same thing. Anybody can step in and do it, but you have to have the right heart and care for kids. You have to want to see them do better,” Chelsea said.
Chelsea knows she’s changing the lives of her students both educationally and emotionally. This Mother’s Day, she received thankful messages from multiple students.
“With all the Mother’s Day text messages you would have thought I had my own kids. They said, ‘thank you Ms. Johnson or Coach Johnson, you’ve been my mom when I didn’t have one’,” Chelsea said. “A lot of our kids at [school name redacted] don’t have a lot of support, if any, and they just want to be loved.”
Chelsea’s school recognizes the difference she’s making for her students and in their community. She received the Distinguished Educator of the Year award for the 2016-17 school year. During that time, she was enrolled in American Board’s program and has now earned her teaching certification.
“When I learned the steps I needed to take for certification, I started realizing it was hundreds of dollars for classes and I needed 30 credit hours as a non-education major,” she said. “American Board was a better path for me financially and was a better time-sensitive course for me. That’s why I chose American Board versus any other alternative program.”