CHATSWORTH — Jacqueline Johnson, a language arts teacher at North Murray High School, is "a model for other teachers," said Principal Maria Bradley.
"Her (students') test scores are really good so other teachers come to see how she does it," Bradley said.
Johnson, who is also the adviser for the school's newspaper and yearbook and chairwoman of the English department at North Murray, was selected as Murray County Schools' Teacher of the Year for 2017-18.
"She believes in her students and makes them believe in themselves," Bradley said. "She's a leader within the school."
Tara Noe, the curriculum and instruction facilitator at North Murray, works with teachers to help them hone their craft.
"She’s the most courageous teacher that we had in our building last year," Noe said of Johnson. "We had some new approaches to instruction that are often hard when you're at the high school level."
Noe said Johnson was bold and took steps to put relationships with students first.
"It (her actions) transformed learning," Noe said. "She also opened up her room and served as a model for other teachers and visitors."
In February, Johnson was nominated by Noe and received the Golden Apple Award from WDEF-TV12, a station in Chattanooga. The award recognizes teachers "who are making a difference for students."
Johnson said she believes it was Noe's coaching that helped her receive the Teacher of the Year award.
Bradley said Teachers of the Year nominees are chosen by their peers at each school. Johnson was chosen as North Murray's Teacher of the Year last spring for the 2016-17 school year.
"Those names (of the teachers) and a letter of recommendation are included in a package and submitted to the committee that chooses the teacher (for the system)," Bradley said. The committee made up of employees from the North Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency.
A native of Calhoun, Johnson is in her fourth year at North Murray. She attended Kennesaw State University, earning a bachelor's degree in communications and journalism. She received a master's degree in teaching from Kennesaw State University.
"I get to do the two things I went to school for which is really cool," she said. "I teach English during all my class periods and the last period we do yearbook and submit stories to newspapers."
Johnson said the newspaper is a great way for students to showcase their articles.
"These students are being published in high school which is really cool," she said. 'It's cool to teach different subjects, even though they are both about writing. It’s two different types so I love doing that."
Johnson said she was surprised she was chosen as Teacher of the Year.
"I am thankful to be selected," Johnson said. "I can't believe people would validate what I do every day. It's so nice to know people have seen something in me."
Johnson said one of the things she loves about teaching is having a student understand content for the first time.
"When a student understands for the first time and I see it on their face, that’s what I love about teaching," she said. "It’s an emotional thing. I love every aspect of teaching."
Johnson said she's an "active teacher" and wants a very active classroom.
"I’m not the sage on the stage, I am the guide on the side," she said. "I make sure students are talking about the work and I’m listening."
Johnson said she likes for students to do most of the work.
"If they’re not talking about the standard or content they're not learning it," she said. "I don’t want to be the one talking all the time, it’s their classroom and learning."
Lindsey Jacobo, a ninth-grader, said Johnson is a "positive" teacher.
"She creates a positive environment and pushes us to work hard," Jacobo said.
Adrianna Rangel, also a freshman, said she's not surprised Johnson received the Teacher of the Year award.
"She's really good and always has a positive vibe," Rangel said. "She's always asking questions and makes sure we understand the work."
Jacobo said Johnson assures students she's on the same level as they are.
"You’re not above someone, you’re not beneath them, but you're right there with them, everyone is equal,"' Johnson tells them.
Johnson said her students motivate her.
"My students are my purpose and without them I wouldn't strive to do this every day," she said. "I can see them learning and having fun in class."
Johnson said trying to reach all of the students at the same time is sometimes a challenge.
"It is exhausting, I'm running around a lot, but I want to reach every single student," she said. "It's challenging trying to reach all their needs, while trying to get everybody else's needs together, too."
She gives credit to the North Murray staff.
"Everyone has been so supportive, I really appreciate the validation," she said. "They inspire and motivate me each day."
Johnson said there isn't much spare time in her life. She also teaches English and writing at North Murray's night school and works part time at Bath and Body Works.
"I don’t have a day off," she said.
In the little spare time she does have, Johnson likes hiking with her husband and their two Chihuahuas. Johnson and Justin Watson were high school sweethearts and have been married since 2008.
"She has the sweetest spirit and relates with students," Bradley said. "They love her (and) she takes time to build relationships with each of them."