“I went over there like what do I have to lose,” Mr. Johnson said while reflecting on his second semester at Clark Atlanta University and what made him want to teach. “It was a lot of inspiring things that were said that made me think for a second, well maybe I can make a difference in the hood.”
Johnson is a social studies teacher at Renaissance High School who has made an impression on students academically and socially for the past 22 years.
“I've always been pretty good in history and it was the least amount of effort. I'm like, ‘Well I can be a history teacher!’ That very next day, I changed my major and that was it,” Johnson said.
His teaching started at a junior high charter school where he taught for eight years before making the switch to the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
“My charter school experience shaped me as a teacher, simply because we didn't have a lot of resources so I had to make up my own stuff,” Johnson said.
The rest of his 14 years of teachings has been at RHS and he doesn't plan on leaving the district anytime soon.
“I worked hard to build a reputation at this school,” Johnson said. “Sure you will make more money at different districts but I'm pretty successful at this school.”
Johnson has never strayed from his end goal when teaching a student.
“The objective is to make you better societal participants,” he said. “All this stuff is relevant: being on time, being organized, putting forth the best effort you can. All this means something inside the classroom and out. If it doesn't mean nothing, why are we even dealing with it?”
If you are a junior or freshman at RHS it very likely for you to have one of Johnson's history classes and before you start you will probably hear enough rumors about him and his teaching style to fill up your entire history book.
“Of course, they view me as a jerk and ‘Petty Johnson’,” he said. “But I know what's best for you and what I'm trying to do is make you a more successful person.”
Senior Kaela Funches remembers Johnson being able to make something from 600 B.C or the 1600-1800s fun to learn. Kaela’s mother, Willette Gray, noticed Kaela being eager to learn history.
“Well I actually realized that she's always been very studious but at the same time he sparked her curiosity about the curriculum,” Gray said.
Johnson uses unique techniques to keep students engaged.
“I try to make it relevant,” Johnson said. “I may give you something from Ancient Greece but I try to make it current to help you make the connection. That's why I always say there’s the textbook and the “Six mile” version as long as you get the concept we’re good.”
Mr. Smith is the Economics teacher at RHS and has been teaching with Mr. Johnson for over 10 years.
“I know what he's looking for,” Smith said. “He has 11th graders, I have 10th graders so its helps me prepare my 10th graders to have him and know what he's looking for. It's also good to know that they’re going to get a certain teacher that's going to push them.
“He's an outstanding teacher.”
Senior Amber Crawford had Johnson during her junior year for world history and geography and said the class helped her become a better student.
“Even though I didn't get the grade I wanted, after leaving that class I learned a lot as far as history and inhabiting better study habits so it was worth it in the end,” Crawford said.
Crawford went on to say that class participation, studying, taking and understanding notes, asking questions, and being an overall active student helps you succeed with a teacher like Johnson.
Others can vouch for some of the student body who says Johnson’s class is intense, but the outcome is always worth it.
“I came out of his classroom with an A,” Funches said. “Sure it was a lot of hard work and time put into studying for tests and doing other assignments but that feeling of accomplishment made everything feel that much more worth it.”
Crawford said she felt accomplished and pleased with herself after passing his class.
“People say a lot of stuff about me, but what a lot of people don't see is the emails that I get every year when people go off to college say thank you,” Johnson said. “I'm here to make you a better societal individual. Somebody that's going to add some value.”