He has spent his career immersing himself in his students — and their achievements.
But William Johnson, a third-grade teacher at East Port Orchard Elementary School, became a local celebrity last week when he was honored with the STAR 101.5 “Elementary Teacher of the Week” award. He was nominated by student Alexis Kuiphoff through her mother, Lindsay.
“He is an amazing teacher,” STAR 101.5’s Jen Pirak read to Johnson’s 23 students from Kuiphoff’s entry. “He seriously goes above and beyond as many teachers do. Not just spending his own money on school supplies, which he does, but he spends so much extra of his personal time to make the best experience for his students. He’s always at all the after-school events, he even makes an effort to come to students sports games outside of school when invited. He came to two or three of my daughter’s basketball games last season and it made her so happy to see him there.
“I’d be surprised if he hasn’t already been nominated by half the school. I always hear staff and other parents talking about how great he is. He even called me to tell me how wonderful my daughter is and how helpful she is with the struggling students and how much he appreciates her. We would love to have him selected so he knows how appreciated he is, as well. My daughter says, ‘He’s funny, hysterical [and] helps me learn with fun ways.’ Please pick Mr. Johnson — he is so deserving. Thank you.”
STAR 101.5 staff select 12 Western Washington elementary school teachers to honor from March 2-May 28. Ronald McDonald and the Washington Dairy princess accompanied representatives from STAR 101.5 and KOMO-TV and presented the class with souvenir T-shirts and goody bags during the surprise visit on April 9.
“I’m more than a little surprised,” Johnson said as he was presented a plaque. “I’m a lot surprised.”
In addition to the recognition — Johnson also was interviewed April 10 on STAR 101.5 and on KOMO-TV — he received a makeover courtesy of Blanc N’ Schwartz Salon in Kent and a $100 check for classroom use.
“This will be a new experience,” Johnson said. “I rarely see myself in pictures and video. I am excited.”
Johnson, 52, took an unconventional path into education. He served 22 years in the Navy as an electronics technician.
“I did a teaching tour there, so I wanted to come and teach the kids,” said Johnson, who is in his ninth year at EPO. “I figured if I could understand electronics, I should be able to understand kids. It’s been a very fun and rewarding environment.”
Johnson was born in Germany — his father served for 20 years in the Air Force — and lived abroad and in California, Florida, New York and South Carolina. But after serving on the USS Carl Vinson at Naval Base Kitsap, Johnson “decided never to move again. I love this area.”
To some extent, he views his second profession as an extension of his service. Principal Paul Hulbert noticed that upon his arrival in August at EPO.
“He cares about the kids,” he said. “He’s here early and stays late. Every event I’ve ever been in, he’s the first one to arrive and the last one to [leave].”
Hulbert said Johnson’s commitment does not end there.
“His classroom is always open,” he said. “During his recesses and lunches, all the time his room is a place kids know they can get extra help. He has kids coming in every morning before even most of the staff get here and work with him. He’s always there helping.”
Hulbert was notified about the honor about two weeks before Johnson was recognized.
“It’s nice that it comes from students and a parent that has seen his good work and wants to honor him for it,” he said. “He’s well-deserving.”
Johnson said he strives to build relationships with students because he believes it affects their behavior, which leads to a better learning environment.
“I was told at one point, it’s not what you teach — it’s how you teach that the kids will remember,” he said. “I remember my elementary-school teachers and I want the kids to remember me and what we did when they grow up.”