Almost since she can remember, Natalie Johnson dreamed of being a teacher.
But that dream was delayed.
Believing that teachers’ pay wasn’t adequate, Natalie enrolled at Baylor University first as an accounting major, and then after some soul searching, she shifted over to marketing and management. Upon graduation and without any solid career opportunities, however, Natalie returned home and found herself working as a paraprofessional at the elementary school she attended as a child, Beneke Elementary in the Spring (Texas) Independent School District.
It was there Natalie began to think more about teaching and before long she enrolled with Teachers of Tomorrow to prepare to become a certified teacher. The rest is history, as they say.
“Once I took my certification test and finished my Teachers of Tomorrow training modules, my first teaching assignment was actually part-time, half-a-day in Pre-K at my old elementary school. Loved it,” Natalie recalls. “I remember my principal at the time, she said `Girl if I had known that you could do all of this, I would have been pulled you out of that front office.’”
Natalie spent the next several years in the classroom, eventually becoming a second-grade teacher and team leader. And while she loved being in the classroom and working directly with her students, Natalie began thinking about her next steps.
It was then that she enrolled at Lamar University to earn her Master’s Degree in Education Administration before taking the Principalship Exam to become fully certified.
But the initial step to ascending to an assistant principal position didn’t happen overnight. Natalie accepted the Student Support Specialist role at Beneke which required leaving her classroom in the middle of the school year.
It wasn’t long after Natalie landed the opportunity she coveted and that was to become an assistant principal two years ago. The toughest part was leaving Beneke after 10 years and moving on to Spring ISD’s Ponderosa Elementary School, where Natalie has been the assistant principal the last two years.
“It was very tough to leave that campus,” Natalie said. “In my mind, I always thought I would be principal at the school I once attended. It just didn’t work out that way for me to stay because an opportunity presented itself here at Ponderosa to work with at the time Mr. (LaFredrick) Smith, who was also a new principal.
“The transition was tough. I felt like I was leaving my family. That was all I knew. So that was tough, but also rewarding. It was nice to see what else Spring had to offer. Ponderosa is a very different campus than Beneke. I would describe it as a very demanding campus so I would say while the experience has been very rewarding, but it was very much like drinking from a fire hydrant.”
Natalie sat down recently with Teachers of Tomorrow to discuss her career as an educator and the impact TOT has had on her career.
TOT: Can you speak to what Teachers of Tomorrow has meant to you and your career?
Natalie: “It was the stepping stone and the key piece to doing what I love. So it was critical. As far as working with Teachers of Tomorrow, I cannot say anything bad about the program. The level of preparation, the level of support. I can’t compare it to anything else, but I do know that Teachers of Tomorrow does not leave a stone unturned. Last year, Ms. Gwendolyn Mays was the Field Supervisor for several of our teachers. Phenomenal woman. Supported our campus, supported our teachers. We love Teachers of Tomorrow. Definitely, the level of support is unparalleled. All good things to say about the program.”
TOT: What is it like when you meet other educators who have come through the program?
Natalie: “That would be hard to answer just because I haven’t met teachers who haven’t gone through Teachers of Tomorrow. I think that speaks to the level of supervision that is provided through the program. I don’t know if it’s a word-of-mouth situation, but people are not going to recommend you unless they have had a positive experience. Communicating with my teachers specifically, there is no negative interaction. It’s always positive, always good things, even with the online coursework piece. Definitely necessary. Teachers of Tomorrow works to provide teachers with all the tools that are needed to be successful in the classroom, while also being mindful of the landscape of education is changing and making those adjustments to ensure that the new teachers who are coming into the profession are supported.”
TOT: It sounds like you would highly recommend the program?
TOT: What would you say has been the most rewarding part of your job?
Natalie: “For me, I think it would be the relationships that have been established. Not only with my staff, but the relationships with students, that’s probably been the most rewarding part. Every morning I walk the campus to interact with the staff, interact with the students. I would say that the relationships have been the most rewarding because, of course, with that comes growth. Students and staff having the understanding that you believe in them, you are here to support them in whatever their challenges are as they get ready to face the day, face the week.”
TOT: Where did your desire to teach so early on come from?
Natalie: “I don’t even know. Outside of God saying this is what your gift is, I’m not sure. I was always one of those kids who wanted to play school. I didn’t play doctor, I didn’t play lawyer. I played school. I just really think it’s a God-given talent to be able to connect and engage with students and get them excited about learning. As a classroom teacher, I prided myself … My kids didn’t want to miss school.”
TOT: What has it been like seeing efforts have such a positive and lasting impact on your students?
Natalie: “I would say it’s surreal. I’ve only been at this particular campus for a year and a half, but I will tell you about an experience I had several months ago. I met up with some teachers from my previous school and we went and had dinner at Gringos. So we are enjoying dinner and I see one of my former students who work there. She comes up to us and says I was her best teacher and that I always made learning fun and how all of the things I communicated stayed with her. I was up in Gringos crying. I always try to relay to my staff, that we don’t always see what we are pouring into these kids at this stage. We get them and they are fairly young before they go to middle school and high school. It’s likened to when you plant a seed, you don’t see what’s happening beneath the soil. But eventually, you see something sprouting up, you see it growing. You may not always see but you have to always continue nurturing, you have to continue to provide those basic needs, in order for it to grow and be successful. So just hearing her experience, hearing her say that I was boohooing because you just don’t know the impact that you have on these kids.”
TOT: Given your love for teaching and being in the classroom, how difficult of a decision was it for you to transition to the administrative side?
Natalie: “Very, very, very. It was very challenging. But what gives me reassurance is knowing beyond my classroom, I can impact multiple classrooms. But being completely transparent, while I love my role as assistant principal, it does not bring me the same joy as being in the classroom. That’s just something I’m working through on a personal level. Right now it’s new, it’s tough. Anything new is hard. So I am working towards that, trying to find balance, trying to bring in those things that brought me joy in the classroom and applying them to this role. But was definitely a tough transition.”
TOT: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as an Assistant Principal?
Natalie: “Well time. That is probably the biggest challenge, accomplishing it all. I know as a teacher, especially early on, I was definitely the one shutting down the building. But I loved it. I also did not like for things to go undone. So depending on your role, you can only manage that for so long. Transitioning from classroom teacher to this role, you kind of have to be okay with `You’re not going to get it done in a day.’ So it’s a matter of prioritizing things. I would say the biggest challenge is getting it all done. Never enough hours in a day.”
We appreciate Natalie taking the time to speak with us and hope that her story serves as a source of inspiration for future and fellow educators alike.