Thank You Mr. Johnson

I wrote this post almost two years ago on a blog – it was during a time in my life where I was desperately trying to cling onto my identity while most of my soul was being shredded thin by overwork and politics in the corporate world.  Reading the poem tonight on Mr. B made me want to repost and share this – it took me back to my roots.   My inspiration and passion for teaching and Biology came from my high school Biology teacher, Mr. Johnson.  I’ve tried for many, many years to try and locate him – just to say thank you for what he has done.  He has probably no idea how much my experiences in his class have shaped who I am as an educator today.  I wish I could tell him, but his name, Mr. David Johnson is rather common and my continual searches on Facebook have so far been fruitless.   Anyways, I hope you enjoy:

Mr. Johnson, my zany, humorous high school Bio teacher had a bumper sticker tacked onto his bulletin board that said, “Bald and Beautiful.” As he bent over the microscope to fix and focus it on a drop of pond water, my lab partner and I would fall off our stools laughing hysterically to tears because we wanted so badly to rub the peach fuzz on his head. –I was a goofy 15 year old back then.
One day, Mr. Johnson told us to take our lab stools and go outside. He had the entire class sit in the middle of a bunch of rushes on the grass near Elkhorn Slough, an ecological preserve with neat things like hemlock and fairy shrimp. We all thought he was nuts. He told us to sit down and look around at everything. He gave us a speech about all the little details: photosynthesis, respiration, chemotaxis, camouflage, predator-prey interactions… etc. Then he said, “Look at the big picture.”  Whenever you’re bogged down in the little details, take a deep breath, and look at the big picture of where everything fits in. Look at the sky, the plants, the animals… and where you are.  Learn to look at things from a different perspective.

I do this almost every day. Whenever I have that one little student who comes in angry, or complaining…and I’ve just about had it, I look at the finger painting my little ninja made for me hanging in my office. I then look at my dying plant that I desperately try to keep alive that my other little ninja gave me. Then I watch my pet goldfish, ELISA, give me the “feed me” look because she has a 3 minute memory and I just fed her a half an hour ago. I get perspective.

I take a deep breath, smile in remembrance of the squeaky toy left on the stairs that almost killed me this morning, and put myself into the big picture again. It helps me go on.  By the time I’ve generated the paperwork, signed and placed the student on probation, I can do it with a smile. THEY have to think about the big picture too! …and as their director, it is my job to teach them.

Over my sophomore year, Mr. Johnson taught us the important things in life such as mitosis, transcription, bacteriology and osmotic eggs.  On the last day of school, he had a pair of high powered, 60 cc syringes filled with ice cold water targeted at any student that had the gall to shoot him with a squirt gun.  I did – and paid for it with a pair of soaked pants. He also had very good aim. The following year, I became his teacher aid.

In hindsight, I realize now that he was often very frustrated. I think he felt that his students didn’t care. He was burned out. I remember because he would rub his balding head, sigh, then tell us to do things all over again. He was a perfectionist, and wanted us to be just as enamored and passionate about biology like he was.

At the beginning of my senior year, I walked into the science department that I so loved, and discovered that Mr. Johnson had quit. Mr. Carroll, my chemistry teacher, said that he had moved on to a career in Biotechnology. I guess not having people care really got to him. Although I boldly marched through my Physics class with the rest of them, the science department was never the same for me. It was no longer my home.

Fast forward my life a few years, when it’s now ME in front of the class talking Biology. Mr. Johnson is one of the angels that sit on my shoulder. He is the reason I became the teacher I am today. Mr. Johnson was so passionate about what he taught. He LOVED Biology, and he passed his love for it onto me. And now, I get to torture my students with it!

I dream that one day, I will run into Mr. Johnson again, and just spew my guts to him about how he’s been a huge influence in my life. It would start with: I went into Biology…THEN I became a teacher….THEN I became a director…and THEN I became (of all things)…a teacher TRAINER… and THEN……

What would he say when I tell him I use his egg lab? -Or that I teach streaking in the same way he did? (BACTERIAL streaking, not the nakie streaking!) …or that I teach my students about the big picture. In the big picture of things, I was his shadow. In the big picture, he is my idol. When I went through that horrible, bloody rite of passage called Student Teaching, I dreamed of becoming like him.

Unfortunately, trying to find him in this sea of human bodies called America has been darned near impossible. How does one sift through the multiple “David Johnson’s” on a listing? “Excuse me, but are you the Bio teacher that shot me in the pants with your ice-water loaded syringes when I was a sophomore?”

Yes, there were students that didn’t listen or care in your class, Mr. Johnson.

-But let me tell you about the life of someone who did.

Thank you. Thank You For Everything.


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About Yen

I've taught for over 9 years as a high school Biology/Physical Science/Life Science/Biotechnology instructor, and as a curriculum designer and teacher trainer and director for a small career college in Maryland. I am now starting the next leg of my journey into the PhD program in the hopes that one day, I will be able to support, train and assist my fellow colleagues in their own career and educational paths.

3 thoughts on “Thank You Mr. Johnson

  1. Yen, I so enjoyed reading your post! Great details – the dying plant, the goldfish:)… the stuff of life that brings us back into perspective to be able to see again “the big picture.”
    Also, I love your honesty in describing Mr. Johnson’s combination of talent in connecting with students and his teacher burnout which lead to him leaving his teaching career. I can see though, with the perspective of “the big picture,” that Mr. Johnson was in just the right place at the precisely right time, both in his life and in yours, to convey his passion for teaching while he was in his bio teacher role. Cyndy

  2. Yen, I encourage you to keep seeking out Mr. Johnson, both literally and metaphorically. It sounds like he obviously had a huge impact on your life, and it would be great if you could make this connection somehow. I’ve remained in contact with one of my favorite teachers, and it’s been great to have those relationships as I continue to develop. Continue to think about why he was effective and how you can translate that into your own practice. It’s always a valuable endeavor.

  3. I found your post because I also am looking for David Johnson myself. Your discription of him makes me think that your David Johnson is the same one that I know. The last I knew he was teaching high school in New Hampshire. His father was “bald” so it would make sense that David also is bald.

    The difference is that I did not have Mr David Johnson as a teacher, but I went to school with him from the fourth grade till we graduated high school.

    If I find my David Johnson nd he is the same one that you’re looking for, I’ll be more than happy to pass on what I find. Thanks

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