College of the Redwoods English Professor John Johnston figures the best thing he can do as a teacher is make the classroom experience as real as possible.
Maybe that’s because that approach worked on him.
Johnston, a McKinleyvile resident, is the CR Eureka campus full-time faculty member of the year for 2008-09. But there was a time he didn’t know if he’d make it past high school.
”I was bordering on dropping out of high school in Long Beach,” Johnston said. “I graduated by the skin of my teeth even though I had always been an honors student until later in high school.”
He then went to work for a gas station changing oil and rotating tires while the wheels of his future were spinning aimlessly.
After one unsuccessful attempt to take classes at Long Beach City College, he decided to try the community college experience again.
He was taking an English writing class from a woman who was teaching her first semester while getting her master’s degree.
”She made teaching look fun in part because she didn’t know how to do it well,” Johnston recalled. “There was a real human being there. She had he attitude of, ‘Let’s come together’ — a teacher with students — ‘and see that we can learn.’ It was not canned learning. She brought stuff together on a day-to-day basis making it an experience she thought was useful.”
One day in class Johnston’s English professor passed out a paper written by one of the students that she thought was particularly well written. It was Johnston’s.
”When I saw that I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this,’ “ Johnston said.
He not only could do college, he excelled at it. He earned an associate of arts degree from Long Beach City College and within five years of that he had bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from California State University, Long Beach. In fact, he was given an honor as the Outstanding Master of Arts Graduate.
After seven years of teaching English at several colleges, including College of Sequoias, CSU Long Beach, Fullerton College and Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz., Johnston was hired by CR in 2003. In addition to literature and writing classes, Johnson has been an active campus leader in re-writing curriculum, serving on many committees and bringing many diverse speakers to campus.
Keeping it real
In spite of his impressive, long-list of extra-curricular activities, Johnston’s main focus is the classroom and his students.
”My attitude in the classroom has evolved,” Johnston said. “I used to think that I was going to impact every student with a life-changing experience. I worked so intensely with each student – I wanted to be that agent of change in their lives. And that was OK when I was teaching part-time, but it became impossible when I became a full-time teacher. I couldn’t connect with each student as intensively.”
Now, Johnston said, the most important thing he tries to do in the classroom, is “be present, be real. The class is an hour and a half of my, every student’s life who is there. So it better be real because we’ll never get that time back.
”I don’t pretend that we are not human beings. I believe that teachers don’t have to know everything. We have to present strategies of how to figure things out. The world doesn’t make sense. It is up to teachers to help give students strategies to find ways to create meaning in a really complex world.”
Johnston, a product of community colleges, considers teaching at one a true calling. “California community colleges literally saved my life,” he said. “I couldn’t have gotten into a four-year school. Community colleges are a heavy democratizing force in society. It gives everyone a chance to get an education, not just the affluent and those who have done well in life.”
Danny Walker selected Associate Faculty of Year
Danny Walker’s welding classes at College of the Redwoods fill up early each semester and have waiting lists to get into them.
His attitude toward students probably has a lot to do with that and is a main reason why his teaching colleagues voted him the CR Eureka Campus Associate Faculty of the Year for 2008-2009.
”I have respect for the people who take the classes no matter their socioeconomic background,” said Walker, a resident of McKinleyville. “I take anybody off of the street into my classes and teach them a skill. We start at their level and move them up.
”CR and the welding technology program have had a long history of offering a rigorous, high-quality education. In my teaching I try to relate standards of industry along with my own special skill to my students.”
Thad McCormick, one of Walker’s students stopped by his office during the last week of the semester to get some information.
”Danny will do whatever it takes to help students get through,” McCormick said. “He’ll stay late after class and he is real patient. His teaching is working for a lot of people.”
Walker has been teaching machine tool technology and welding at CR since 1981. Starting in 1991 he has basically been the only welding instructor. As a part-time CR instructor, he can teach a maximum of three classes each semester, most of them which are currently held at night.
”Danny is well respected in the community and among his students and department peers as an excellent teacher who consistently goes beyond the regular expectations of an associate faculty member,” said CR Drafting Technology Professor Steve Brown. “As the sole welding technology faculty member at the college, he spends many hours every week maintaining the welding lab, ordering supplies, soliciting local shops for materials, and refining the welding curriculum. Student success and access are always the primary focus of Danny’s work at the college.”
Walker received an associate of arts degree in machine tool technology from CR in 1973. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in industrial technology in 1976 and teaching credential in 1981 from Humboldt State.
In addition to teaching at CR, he has worked as a machinist and welder for a number of private companies on the North Coast. He also taught welding at the Fire Arts Foundry in Arcata for two years.
He has been heavily involved in the internal CR and Redwood Coast communities for decades. He has served as a member of the Humboldt Regional Occupation Advisory Board, the supervisor of the CR Welding Technology Community Advisory Committee an associate faculty representative on the CR Faculty Organization and a member of the CR Academic Senate.
CR Manufacturing Technology Professor Mike Peterson is impressed by Walker’s dedication to his students.
”Mr. Walker’s commitment to his profession is remarkable,” Peterson said. “His passion for excellent teaching is evident in the way that he works with his students. I have observed Danny presenting his knowledge of metal-working to potential students during recruitment activities. He relates to students very well and conveys to them how important education is.”
Walker said he finds teaching gratifying. “I like the discipline,” he said. “Some people take the welding classes to develop a career and other people want to work on a personal project. I try to make it fun for all the students.”