McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • McPherson teacher’s students span PE to prison

  • From plane crashes to PE to prison, Lois Johnson has seen a lot during her years as a teacher.
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  • From plane crashes to PE to prison, Lois Johnson has seen a lot during her years as a teacher.
    Johnson, 73, will retire this year from the McPherson School District. She began teaching in 1963 in Colby, after graduating from Bethany College.
    “I enjoyed activities and sports growing up, so I chose to pursue a double major in business education and physical education, and a double minor in psychology and sociology,” Johnson said. “You don’t see a lot of that.”
    Johnson hoped to get a job teaching business and thought physical education would be a good complement. At that time, physical education for girls was just beginning, and schools were looking for female teachers because physical education was not coeducational.
    Johnson grew up on a farm between McPherson and Marquette and considered starting her teaching career in McPherson, but eventually settled on Colby because it seemed more manageable.
    “I had a McPherson contract in hand when I went to Colby,” Johnson said. “I went there because back then in McPherson, you taught two days at the high school and three days at the middle school, then switched at the semester. You also helped out at the May Fete, and I didn't think I’d be able to handle that.”
    Johnson taught physical education at the Colby junior high and high schools as well as Colby Community College, which was just starting at the time. Though she chose Colby for the more manageable workload, her first year proved to be more difficult than anyone expected.
    “In October, we had two plane-loads of staff and people go to Oklahoma. One of them hit electrical wires and killed the high school basketball coach, a junior, his father and his grandfather,” Johnson said. “Then in November, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Colby was a Catholic community, so it hit us really hard.”
    Johnson also was the girl’s dean. That year, they found out many of the cheerleaders were part of a shoplifting ring.
    “I told my husband I couldn’t do it anymore,” Johnson said. “I was a first-year teacher. I didn’t know what to do.”
    Johnson said she persevered with family and staff support. She taught in Colby for the next four years until family brought her back to the farmhouse. Johnson took a 25-year break from teaching to raise a family until someone from the education department asked her to return to teaching — at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.
    “I had no idea what to expect, but he made me comfortable and reassured me my classroom would be safe,” Johnson said.
    Johnson taught business classes for three years at the facility in 17 business areas. The curriculum was student-driven and competency-based. Johnson wrote various competencies for her students to achieve and gave them suggestions on how to reach their goals.
    Page 2 of 2 - “That was an extremely positive teaching experience,” Johnson said. “None of my students could fail.”
    Johnson said she got a lot of support from the warden, who wanted to make sure inmates were prepared to contribute to society and break the pattern of crime.
    Johnson then came to McPherson, where she has been teaching for the past 19 years. She currently teaches business and journalism classes and advises the yearbook and newspaper staff.
    Johnson said the biggest change she’s seen through the years is with technology and the effect it has on her classroom.
    “Technology today has made so many projects feasible,” she said.
    She said her favorite part of teaching is seeing her students overcome challenges, which she calls opportunities.
    “They are so willing to accept opportunities and work at it,” Johnson said. “They’re reassured they won’t fail if they try something new, and we take that chance to do better. The challenge is to do better, and they buy into that.”
    Johnson said after retiring, she plans to spend more time doing farm work and refinishing furniture. She also plans to do more volunteer work.
    “I won’t have to confine everything to the evening and weekends,” Johnson said. “It’s been an interesting journey. It’ll continue to be an interesting journey.”
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