Joined USJ: 2014
As a high school English teacher in San Francisco for seven years, Anthony Johnston, Ph.D., saw both the “systemic inequalities and the possibilities of promise” present in his students lives and knows it will take an enormous effort to close the ever-widening achievement gap. His two areas of research: innovative approaches to teacher education and literary practices as an identity resource for non-dominant youth look at ways in which we can work toward equity in education.
He believes new teachers need to embark on their journey equipped with the necessary tools to educate diverse and complex populations and this can be achieved when teachers begin to see students in different ways than school structures and traditions dictate. We limit a student’s potential when we label them. “They are not fixed entities,” Johnston says, “ but are constantly changing and adapting — in essence, they are humans in progress.” While Johnston knows that the institution of schooling can sometimes make it difficult to see the whole student, he encourages future teachers to get to know their students on a different level by creating a safe space in which students also learn to see themselves as complex and in process, something that can only occur if they are comfortable bringing their own lives into the classroom.
Johnston knows the important role literacy plays in garnering successful outcomes in college and career, but believes it should be taught not only as a preparation for life but as a life experience — with the focus of analysis not solely on the book, but also on the self. Johnston had his “Aha!” moment one day when he was reaching for a book and thought to himself, “Why am I grabbing this book, as opposed to one next to it?” He believes we choose books because we are looking for someone to have a conversation with, who will engage us in deeper levels of discourse about our own life’s questions than we can have on our own. Rooted in an authentic motivation for reading, he wants students to bring their personal experiences to literature and ask the question, “What does the text have to offer?” He strongly believes that teachers have to create and model this new approach by bringing their own experiences into the classroom. If teachers can tap into student’s authentic questions and link them to literature that allows them to explore these questions, it will turn more students into life-long readers.
Johnston, who was an actor for 15 years before becoming an educator, sees a striking similarity between a stage and a classroom. For him, an important component of acting is “stage presence.” While Johnston is critical of the “sage on the stage” model of teaching, he sees parallels between effective teachers and the ability for an actor to be invested in the moment, connected to the other actors, and constantly improvising, while keeping the audience engaged. Johnston believes that it is equally important for an educator to have “teacher presence” and be responsive to individual learning needs, to respond moment-by-moment to the needs of the collective classroom and individual students, and to adjust their instruction on the fly, all while being cognizant of the lesson’s objective. He believes this disposition of teacher presence can be taught in education classes and will help teachers better serve their students.
Ph.D., University of California Berkeley
M.S., The New School for Social Research
B.A., New College of California