CMS Teacher of the Year went from struggling student to top teacher

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - April Johnson was announced as Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (CMS) Teacher of the Year Wednesday night. She teaches Art at Tuckaseegee Elementary School.

Johnson has only been teaching for CMS for two years and she has already made a difference.

"I still have one of the greatest jobs in the world," Johnson said. "Don't believe me - come hang with me."

The principal at Tuckaseegee Elementary says Johnson connects with students and builds relationships with them. The Teacher of the Year's mother is a teacher. Teaching is in her blood but Johnson claims she didn't chose the teaching profession - it chose her.

She says she is humbled that she gets to do what she does.

"It's about practicing your highest gift," Johnson said. "I'm pretty good, pretty... decent at art and I love kids, but teaching, the ability to share, is my highest gift and I feel privileged I get to practice it every day."

The road to Teacher of the Year wasn't easy. Johnson is a CMS graduate from Northwest School of the Arts and attended Tuckaseegee Elementary School as a student. She says she had behavioral and academic problems in middle school and was sent to an alternative school. The school district sent her there to get back on track.

"It was a smaller setting," Johnson said. "They were all hidden inside churches."

She says one day inside a room inside that alternative school located in a church something life-changing happened.

"They would let us go in there and blow steam," Johnson said. "And I would throw paint around and try this and mix colors here and mix colors there and things started to come together. And I can do this - this is cool."

Johnson became a lover of art and acting. She even tried out for an acting role and got it. She says finding what she loves made the difference.

"When I say art turned me around and even so the Arts saved me," Johnson said. "It's true because that's what turned me around, because prior to that, I really lost a lot of motivation and fervor for school."

The art teacher says with this title she wants to continue to uplift students and encourage them to find their passion. She doesn't want to give up on any child because educators didn't give up on her while she was in school.

"Every child is valuable," she said. "Every child can learn. Every child can be successful."

Johnson says these days it takes a lot to be a teacher. She says it takes stamina and joy. She says she is appreciative her students help her get through the day.

"There are some days where I feel wildly unsuccessful," Johnson said. "But the kids don't know anything about that and then the next morning they bounce in - hug me and ready to start over."

The Tuckaseegee Elementary School teacher believes to be an effective teacher, educators need to meet students where they are.

"We see kids go through hard times and we expect them to give 100%," Johnson said. "And they can only give us 75%.  And it takes a special type of person to say if 75% is all you can give me - let me work with what you got."

Johnson says she will continue to advocate for students and will try to get the community more involved in public education and help parents navigate CMS. She says their participation in students school life is important.

"These are not the citizens of the future," she said. "They are the citizens of today."

Johnson says as Teacher of the Year she will speak up for teachers who she says are often disrespected. She looks forward to teachers invading Raleigh on May 16th to rally in front of lawmakers for better pay and more money to educate students.

"We have to fight for the integrity of what we do," Johnson said. "I feel like that is a very, very necessary thing. No one is going to speak up and tell your story like you can."

Johnson won a cash prize, school supplies, and a brand new car for a year.

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