Springfield's top teacher praises colleagues who 'went that extra mile'
Armando Johnson, the reigning Springfield Teacher of the Year, vowed not to say the words "pandemic" or "coronavirus" in his speech. He even made up funny, nonsensical words to avoid them.
But the challenging experiences of the past year weighed on the Spanish teacher from Central High School.
Johnson declared "every teacher who taught during the pandemic, even the parents" as an honorary Teacher of the Year.
"It was rough. I'm talking about rough — R U F F — rough," he said, misspelling the word for comic effect. "Especially those Wednesdays. I was so happy when we went back to school on Wednesdays because ... I'm a pretty hyper guy but keeping kids motivated on Wednesdays was something."
The state's largest district flipped to virtual learning in March 2020. In the fall, students either went full-time virtual or hybrid, attending in person just two days a week.
Johnson said the temporary switch to learning virtually and the gradual return to learning in person has been difficult on students.
"Whether they know it or not, they've been prepared for life. They learned to be flexible. They learned how to be uncomfortable. They've learned how to be secluded," he said. "They've learned to wash their hands, stay away from people and they have become masters of Insta-Google-Snapchat-Face. They have mastered Canvas. They have mastered Zoom."
Eventually, students in all grade levels increased to four days in person a week — all but Wednesday — and, eventually, to five days.
"Teachers, we all went that extra mile. Every teacher became a virtual teacher. After the initial shock of repeating and recreating every lesson plan, we adapted," he said. "We learned to connect with our students daily. We went the extra miles to give our students the content they needed."
Johnson spoke Monday at the annual Celebrate SPS — formerly known as the Teacher Appreciation Banquet — sponsored by Foundation for Springfield Public Schools.
He said that now that he's vaccinated against COVID-19, he is starting to see a "light at the end of the tunnel."
"I feel better. I feel safer than I ever have," he said.
Johnson said his high school Spanish teacher, who died this year, "planted a seed" that spurred him to teach a foreign language.
He recalled her saying "Armando, you are going to be a translator or a teacher." At the time, he responded, "No, I am going to the NBA."
Johnson praised his colleagues and his mother, who dropped out of school, for pushing all of her surviving children to get a diploma — and they did.
Inspired by them, Johnson said he works each day to be a champion for children.
"It doesn't cost a thing to smile, you don't have to pay to laugh and when kids see that every day, they know when they come around me, they are going to let their guards down," he said. "You're going to be comfortable then, hopefully, when you build those relationships, they are going to want to learn something."
Next Teacher of the Year named
At the end of Johnson's speech, he called the five finalists for the 2021-22 Teacher of the Year to the stage.
They include Amanda Adams, lead teacher of the Health Sciences Academy; Melanie Donnell, kindergarten teacher at York Elementary; Bob Lynch, communication arts and foreign language teacher at Glendale High School; Terri Schaffitzel, a second grade teacher at Pleasant View Elementary; and Cary Sikes, a fourth-grade teacher at Gray Elementary.
Johnson joked that his job was to "not forget who the winner is" so he used a mnemonic device to remember.
"The 2021-22 Springfield Public Schools Teacher of the Year is Amanda Adams," he said. "My mnemonic device is a AA battery because she is going to energize the district."
Adams is the lead educator for a health-focused magnet program for eighth-graders at Mercy Hospital. However, it was suspended this year due to the pandemic.
"I want to say thank you to all the teachers out there as well. We know it has been a 'scandemic' or whatever you called it," Adams said of the fun words Johnson made up to avoid saying "pandemic."
"I know how hard you guys have all worked and if we can have everybody be Teacher of the Year that is exactly what we should do."
In that role, she has been involved in curriculum development, data analysis, training, partner outreach, student discipline and parent communication.
Adams has been in public education for 14 years, starting at Pershing Middle School. She taught eighth-grade science, sponsored pep club, and coached Science Olympiad and cheerleading.
She has a master's degree from Evangel University and recently completed a doctorate in educational leadership, curriculum and instruction.
In a statement, Adams said: “As a teacher, I have grown and developed in my approach to teaching, and today my philosophy of teaching can be summed up in three ideas; student-teacher relationships that inspire, challenge, and encourage student growth, and providing engaging learning experiences.”
Angela Buis, of McGregor Elementary, won the Linda Luke Librarian of the Year Award
Robin Luke, who announced the award, said Buis handles challenging situations with love and grace.
"She has even dressed up a book character to get students excited about reading," said Robin Luke. "She goes the extra mile and reaches out to authors and various organizations within the community to get resources and activities for students."
Elizabeth "Lizzie" LaLonde, a first-year teacher from Hickory Hills Elementary, won the Malori McGhee Rookie of the Year Award.
Tanya Rapert, director of special education services, said LaLonde had a natural ability to connect with students. "Lizzie's optimistic attitude ... to find the good in every situation and the strength in every child allowed her to quickly build relationships for greater student success."
Tom Prater, a former member of the Springfield school board and the SPS foundation, was named the Advocate for Education Award.
"Advocacy means contributing financially. It means paying attention to what's going on. It means your time and it means your community work," Prater said.
Kum & Go was named the Corporate Partner of the Year, which was accepted by Tim McCaleb, district manager.
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.