Local kindergarten teacher named state Teacher of the Year

Gov. Branstad called Tania Johnson "a lifelong learner"

2013 Iowa Teacher of the Year Tania Johnson (center) smiles as she listens to applause after Gov. Terry Branstad (left)
2013 Iowa Teacher of the Year Tania Johnson (center) smiles as she listens to applause after Gov. Terry Branstad (left) and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds (right) announced Johnson's award during a ceremony at the Cedar Rapids Community School District's Educational Leadership and Support Center on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. District superintendent Dr. David Benson is at background, right. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

Tania Johnson, a kindergarten teacher at Jackson Elementary School in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, has been named Iowa’s 2013 Teacher of the Year.

Superintendent Dave Benson, Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds were all on hand at the district’s Educational Leadership and Support Center at Wednesday afternoon to announce the news.

"She's an excellent representative of the teaching profession and all educators," Benson said.

Gov. Branstad called Johnson "a lifelong learner" and said she "exemplifies a great teacher and a great leader." Director Glass echoed the praise of both the governor and the superintendent.

"She has demonstrated a commitment to growing professionally but always focusing on keeping teaching at the center of what she does," he said.

Johnson found out she'd won the honor in early August but couldn't reveal the news until the formal announcement. The news was the culmination of a process that included a nomination, a hefty application and a panel interview in Des Moines.

"I think it's going to be overwhelming when I think about everything that's happening and what I'm going to be involved in," she said. "I never really thought it was going to be me."

Jamie Cummins, a counselor at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, nominated Johnson for the honor for “so many reasons.”

Johnson taught kindergarten to both of Cummins' children: 6-year-old Carrie and 9-year-old Connor, "an incredibly bright child who has some special needs," Cummins said.

"The patience (Johnson) displayed with him, and the communication she displayed with us, I could not have dreamed up a more perfect fit for him and our family," the mother continued.

Cummins provided a letter of support for Johnson, describing her classroom as a "well-oiled machine" and stating that "her use of technology and hands on learning should be the professional standard for all educators."

"She shares her home phone number with her families, subliminally telling us, from the very beginning, that she feels her job goes beyond the walls of the school and the hours in a school day," Cummins wrote.

The endorsements didn't end there, with Johnson's 11-year-old daughter Kai also calling her mom "a good teacher."

Johnson has been a teacher for 22 years, all in Cedar Rapids (save for a year she spent teaching in Brighton, England, on a Fulbright Teacher Exchange Scholarship). She has also taught at Coolidge Elementary School and attended Van Buren Elementary, Taft Middle School and graduated from Jefferson. Johnson cited her past "fantastic teachers" as a reason why she chose to enter the profession.

Johnson will begin her reign as the 2013 Teacher of the Year on Jan. 1, taking on an ambassador role and visiting learning institutions throughout Iowa. She and the state’s four other Teacher of the Year finalists will be recognized at a luncheon at the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines on Oct. 26. Johnson said that as Teacher of the Year, she hopes to “remind teachers how important it is to share what they’re doing in their classrooms” and also that it’s OK to rely on others for help.

"It's going to be an amazing journey and I can't wait to make a difference," she said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to go see schools across Iowa."

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