Partnerships help Samson educator earn Wiregrass Electric Cooperative award
Some of the students don’t have enough food when they go home each day. Some live with grandparents or great-grandparents. Some have experienced loss because of COVID-19, toppling family structures and disrupting home lives. All have a learning disability.
Yet, Felicia Johnson, who teaches special education classes to third, fourth, and fifth graders at Samson Elementary School, perseveres. Through dedication, patience and often spending her own money, she ensures all her students accomplish their educational goals and feel valued.
Johnson’s commitment recently earned her the Teacher of the Month award from Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC) and 95.5 WTVY-FM. Johnson received school supplies from the cooperative, a pizza party for her students, and other prizes.
“The stories area teachers can tell you are simultaneously heart-wrenching and heartwarming,” says WEC Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro. “Daily, they encounter students from various backgrounds, some of which are very difficult. This complicates an already demanding profession. Yet they overcome and help students achieve.
“We are honored to highlight their accomplishments and reward them through our partnership with 95.5 WTVY. We cannot thank educators enough for their accomplishments.”
While Johnson says that 29 years of experience have helped her become the award-winning teacher she is today, she credits the great partnerships it takes to mold a student.
The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, a government entity, indicates students have higher grades, stay in school longer, and are more motivated if family members assist in their education. That is why Johnson stays connected with parents or guardians as much as she can.
“I’ve always given parents my phone number,” she says. “If they need me, I want them to be able to call me. I had a great-grandmother that would call me and say, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ I’m like, ‘You have to. You’re all they’ve got. I will help you.’”
Johnson says some families make it easy to connect with them, answering calls, emails, and texts. For others, Johnson and special education paraprofessional Lagina Sanders make extra efforts.
“You have to keep an open-door policy to work with kids like this,” Sanders says. “You have some parents that shut their doors and won’t give you phone numbers until their kid is out of your classroom. You can’t do that here.”
“I have some parents that have phone troubles, so we do notes or home visits,” Johnson says. “We also have a lot of parents who have other challenges, and they’re very intimidated by school and teachers. But when they become comfortable with you, then you get that buy-in, which is huge.”
Crossing the Hall
Some of the most important partnerships that guide a special education student’s success are the relationships that Johnson has built with her fellow co-workers.
Special education students take some classes alongside their peers in the same grade and then visit Johnson and Sanders for more one-on-one interaction. Johnson constantly connects with general education teachers to follow the same lesson plans yet craft different learning approaches to help students overcome any challenges they have.
“One student may need one-step instructions. Others may take a lesson and run with it,” she says. “We accommodate tests — a lot of color-coding, putting in visual cues — to help them be successful.”
Johnson says her fellow teachers have always cooperated with her efforts. She lends out supplies she has purchased to assist them, and Sanders says Johnson serves as a mentor to many.
“The general education teachers that can motivate kids and meet them where they are make your job a dream job,” Johnson says. “These are some of the hardest working people I’ve been with. Teachers will come to me and ask what they can do to help a student along, and that’s the collaboration.”
Perhaps the most important relationship Johnson maintains is the one she has with Sanders, Geneva County Schools’ current Support Personnel of the Year honoree at Samson Elementary.
“Lagina and I have been together so long that she knows how I accommodate things and the strategies that I use,” Johnson says. “Now she can take it and run with it, which is very rare for a paraprofessional to do that. She’s a cut above the rest.”
Connecting with Community
Johnson sees many benefits from programs like WEC’s and WTVY-FM’s Teacher of the Month Award, including how these programs encourage teachers.
The paperwork demands teachers face have led to higher rates of burnout in recent years, she says. On top of that, COVID-19 has negatively affected the education system. With schools going to virtual learning for a year, many pupils trail in their development.
“That’s a lot of ground to make up, but we have to make it up,” she says. “That’s a lot of stress for teachers. We do it, but it’s tough.”
Besides being a boost for teachers, honors like this one also give students a sense of pride, Johnson says.
“They love their school. When a group comes in and recognizes someone, they get so excited,” she says. “I love that we have community partners that do that. These kids are so appreciative, and it makes you want to do more for them.”
Nominate a Worthy Teacher Today
Wiregrass Electric Cooperative and 95.5 WTVY-FM are always looking for a few good teachers. If you know someone worthy of our Teacher of the Month award, nominate them today on the WTVY page!