How to Leverage Adversity as Your Greatest Asset: Teacher Kendria Johnson Shares How

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
  –  William Arthur Ward

Sometimes your gift makes room for you. Although we don’t know what exactly that room is supposed to look like early on, we expect it to be inviting and positive, not hapless and negative. As an educator with 15 years of experience, Kendria Johnson found herself on a razor’s edge in need of room. Her daughter had graduated college, and Johnson found herself suddenly on her own. The rigorous demand, all too common in the teaching profession, left her health in shambles. Stress permeated her whole being. Politics was seeping into the classroom. The walls were closing in. She couldn’t continue down the same road. She had to adapt, or it would be her last year as an educator.

A Tremendous Challenge Awaits

Everything that led her to the brink of defeat was the product of a mistaken mindset, an impoverished mindset. In this headspace of diminished self-worth, she could not flourish as an individual in a way that was best for her. She could not give the ultimate gift to herself: an empowered life, a life of self-respect and transcendence, all of which required a shift of mind.

There lived in the state of Texas, a girl, 14 years of age. One day her mother took her to see a doctor for a stomach flu. She was taken to the back to have a series of tests run on her to determine the malady. During these tests the nurse became angry. This anger confused the girl. As the girl left the room, she passed another nurse who was overheard saying something odd. “Third one today.” The confusion mounted, which caused the girl to inquire. “What’s the problem? What did the test say?” The nurse preferred not to say. “I’ll get the doctor.” The doctor comes in with his crisp white coat. Before his back hit the chair, he told her she was pregnant. Now, the devastation and the wave of self-loathing that washes over this girl is insurmountable, just unbearable. She is furious and disappointed in herself. How was she going to tell her family? How was she going to tell her mother in the waiting room? How was she going to have the will to keep herself intact? She didn’t know. All normalcy had vanished. She really felt her life was over.

Rising Above All Odds

In America, the statistics on teen pregnancy are loud and clear:

A teenage girl was not expected to graduate high school. 

A teenage girl may graduate high school with a baby, but was not expected to go to college.

A teenage girl in this situation will almost certainly not get a master’s degree, let alone travel the world.

All things considered, this teenage girl was different and became the woman Johnson is today.

“Circumstances shaped me. I had no electricity, my car was repossessed, I had no money, and I was pregnant.” Johnson decided long ago, and against all odds, she would not become another statistic. She instead became an educator to her first student, her daughter, who eventually obtained a master’s degree and occupation at the National Space Agency, otherwise known as NASA. Miraculous though it may be, Johnson was still in a bind. “Getting through challenges requires faith. You don’t always understand why the universe says no, but after I get something wrong or something does not work out, I have learned to accept it and know it was just not the right time.” The imperative to rediscover herself and to transform her life shook her to her core. She had to manifest a new way forward or fade into obscurity.

An Invitation to Personal Revolution

Nearly half a million teachers in the United States leave their profession each year. 41% of new teachers resign from their profession entirely within five years. In these dire times you can be sure this exodus has continued uninterrupted.

“The system is dragging them down,” Johnson confesses. “I’m an international teacher; it’s happening everywhere.” Educators care deeply about making a difference in the lives of young people, but according to various surveys the workload is notoriously unsustainable. Other contributors to burnout include an unsatisfactory teaching environment, tedium, student behavior, administration, and community relations. Burnout is no secret in the teaching community. Many suffer. Yet to be honest with oneself is to understand the critical toll these factors take on a teacher’s health. Johnson was no exception. Her body and soul were so battered that she had to take several medical leaves from teaching.

Here is the turning point; an opportunity arose. She found a teaching position abroad that appealed to her. However, she did not complete her application. Johnson got cold feet. Despite her failure to follow through, she got a phone call. “We need your experience. We need it badly. We need math and science teachers. We’ll give you anything.” And they did, namely tax-free income and accommodation. Johnson was interviewed and offered the teaching position within a week. Five months later she was on a plane to Abu Dhabi, determined to be successful regardless of how challenging her new setting would seem.

Clues of a New Path

“When your mindset changes, you tend to attract the things that confirm it,” Johnson says to me, overlooking the Persian Gulf from her flat in Abu Dhabi . “I didn’t choose teaching, it chose me. Not long after I arrived in the Emirates, I began to find my passion again.  teachers would come to me and say, ‘I have trouble with my kids––please talk to them.’ Okay, I can talk to them, they’ll respect me. You are the teacher, though, so you have to connect with them. Because you want them to respect you.”

Johnson, whose mentor is God, sensed that her experience as an educator combined with her perseverance made her a magnet to others. As teachers and peers alike started to approach her in search of guidance, Johnson would take this as a cue to pursue teacher mentoring, a subset of mentoring aimed at educators who are able to help struggling teachers overcome their difficulties in and out of the classroom.

Where All Things Meet

“In the end, both the small and mundane and the large and philosophical aspects of teaching need to be delivered by mentors in order to shape teachers into strong, dedicated professionals who may one day become mentors themselves,” explains Vocal Gal of the Sadlier School.

Johnson specializes in the teaching curriculum of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Otherwise known as STEM education, she looks to provide her knowledge through services that include private coaching, seminar work, and public speaking. Mentorship is a vocation she believes deeply in. Her teaching discipline, coupled with the principles of mentorship, has unlocked a vital source of her passion, helping to extend her gift to the many teachers who are bound to find tremendous benefit in such an offering. Ultimately it is the student that becomes the benefactor of a well-mentored educator, thus creating a ripple effect that may very well have a positive impact on communities worldwide as a result.

According to a briefing paper by the Pacific Resources for Education and Learning: “The stakes are high. Quality teaching is essential if the mission of education is to be fulfilled. Mentoring can play a critical role in continually improving the professional knowledge and skills that teachers need to instruct and prepare students for the next century.”

It took many bouts of tremendous adversity to lay the groundwork for the shift in attitude that would place Johnson in such an advantageous position to help others. In spite of the odds, her gift has now made room for her. To invite others into the fold to self-actualize. Through such collaboration, all the world can be set right. “I have an online course now titled Teach for Life, a program where I teach six hours of training to new teachers or teachers struggling in their profession,” she expands. Teaching is the spark that lights my flame. I now enjoy mentoring other teachers to wake up to their fullest potential.”

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