Through teaching and tutoring, Señor Johnson gives back to the community
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A student walks into Mr. Johnson’s home office and pulls back the plastic white lawn chair, sitting down perpendicular to where he sits, ready to begin the hour-long tutoring session.
Mr. Johnson quickly prepares himself, strapping a pen to his hand and leaning his motorized wheelchair a bit back as he pushes himself up against the table to better see the student’s math textbook.
But Mr. Johnson isn’t just a math tutor.
Mr. John Johnson, commonly known as Señor Johnson, has been an Amat faculty member since 2004, but his teaching career didn’t begin there.
Señor Johnson has impacted so many people’s lives over the course of his career, (including myself) through his teaching, coaching, and tutoring outside of school.
He tutors in his suburban home, near the Westfield West Covina Mall, where he also resides with his mother, whom he cites as his main influence to be a teacher.
“My mother Marie was a teacher for over 30 years, and she was and still is my biggest inspiration and role model,” Señor Johnson said. “I’ve always consulted her help in times of need and I value her both as a parent and teacher”
Señor Johnson started tutoring as a volunteer at St. Christopher’s after his neck injury, as a way to give back to the community.
“God put teaching in my possession because of a desire to give back to a community, and that community was St. Christopher,” he said. “And one thing turned into another, after I broke my neck in 1984, about a year and half later, I asked if I could tutor and that eventually lead me to become a K-8 and high school teacher”
His initial job at Amat was a substitute for a teacher on maternity leave. Then longtime staff member Mrs. Minto offered him a position within the foreign language department because of his degree in Foreign Languages.
“After I broke my neck, I went to finish school at Cal State Long Beach and I promised myself that I would take one class every semester that was interesting to me, and it turned out to be Spanish,” Mr. Johnson said. “Then my counselor told me I only had to take two more classes to get a degree so I did.”
He chose Spanish because of several factors such as proximity to Mexico, and the ever growing demographics of Southern California’s Spanish speaking community. He also picked up pieces of Vietnamese, French, and Tagalog from his students and the parents of those students that he tutors.
But he’s never promoted himself as a tutor at school. The one exception he mentions was handing out an informational flyer regarding tutoring to my sixth period Spanish I class my freshmen year. Most hear of his services by word of mouth, he says.
“I’ve never promoted myself as a tutor, up until the time I handed your class that flyer,” Mr. Johnson said. “And I did that not because I needed students, but your particular class had a lot of students that needed me beyond the classroom.”
But as far as numbers go, Señor Johnson says he gets about a dozen or so students a week, ranging from different ages to different schools to different backgrounds. One student, he says, comes four days a week in hourly sessions.
“The funny thing about this tutoring business is, the more successful students are, I get laid off,” he said. “Because they’ve done their job well and I’ve done my job well.”
But his tutoring doesn’t include single subjects. His services range from all different levels of Spanish to math, all the way up to calculus.
“As far as I can remember, I’ve always liked math,” he chuckled. “I was actually excited about math class. I remember my geometry class here at Amat when I was a student.”
“This stuff’s easy to me, and I have a lot of self-confidence in it. And like with Spanish, I just kept taking math classes.”
But mathematics and Spanish weren’t his main degrees, rather they were byproducts from his original degree: bilingual and cultural studies.
In his own terms, he learns languages through “the nuts and bolts,” using the rules of syntax and grammar to piece everything together to form sentences, he said.
“There’s a lot of similarities between languages and math,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of literal formulas and rules you have to adhere to in order to correctly write a sentence the same way you would solve a math problem”
He also said that it is really hard to find teachers like himself who know both math and languages since the two disciplines are on opposing sides of the brain.
But teaching isn’t the only thing Señor Johnson does. He was also the special teams coach at Amat up until the end of the 2014 season, a career the spanned over 24 years.
“My initial year of coaching at Amat, I was a part-time student and a full-time coach,” he said. “It was too much for me, but I was stubborn enough to try more than I should’ve.”
He believes that his coaching experiences have influenced his teaching in many positive ways.
“Teaching is the same in and out of the classroom,” he said. “The environment and culture may be different, but the ways we approach these teaching styles are fundamentally the same. But as long as all of these techniques and concepts are taught with love and passion and if you put the best effort worth then you will succeed.”