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HHS grad takes alternate route to teaching career

Brianna Johnson joins Teach for America in Minneapolis

by Katrina Styx • Staff writer

When Hastings High School graduate Brianna Johnson went to college, she wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do. She got her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Minnesota in 2012, and although she had considered teaching as a career path, she had decided not to pursue it as a degree.

After graduating, she moved to Chicago for six months to work with the Chicago Teaching Fellows, working in special education. But her heart was in Minnesota, she said, so she moved back to the Twin Cities, where she found a job as a special education paraprofessional with the South St. Paul school district.

“That was what made me really decide I wanted to be a teacher and have my own classroom,” she said.

When she realized that, she got started finding a way into a teaching career. Since her college education hadn’t taught her the ins and outs of a classroom, she had to find an alternative route. Her answer was in Teach For America, a national non-profit teacher corps dedicated to addressing the problem of education inequality in low-income schools.

The program appealed to Johnson in part because of her own experience.

“Growing up in Hastings, I had a really awesome education,” she said.

Then she went to college and spent some time volunteering, and she saw the discrepancies between the education she had gotten and the education some Minneapolis children are getting.

Teach For America works to help improve education opportunities for low-income schools by training teachers like Johnson who want to make a difference and placing them in low-income schools with mentors looking over their work.

“It’s a really, really great program,” Johnson said.

Last week, Johnson finished the first part of her training, an eight-week summer residency program. This fall, she’ll be teaching kindergarten at a Minneapolis school, the start of a two-year teacher training program. At the same time, she’ll take graduate level credits at the University of Minnesota, which has partnered with Teach for America for the first time this year, Johnson said. At the end of her two years, she’ll earn a recommendation for teacher licensure and will also have an opportunity to take six more credits to earn her master’s degree in curriculum.

Getting into the program took a bit of work on Johnson’s part. She applied in April, 2013, with a written application followed by a series of interviews and activities that showed her aptitude as a teacher.

At her final interview, she got to choose her preferred location. Since she’s married and has a house in the Twin Cities, she needed to find a position here. That put her on a wait list, since all the local positions were already filled at that time. In October of last year, she found out she would get her position.

Johnson is excited about her new career path, to say the least. It’s the students she’s most excited about.

“I’m excited to get to know them and what makes them excited,” she said.