UofM Alum Named 2021 Illinois Teacher of the Year

The Illinois State Board of Education recently announced their 2021 Illinois Teacher of the Year Award winner, University of Memphis Alum, Mr. Justin Johnson.

The Illinois Teacher of the Year award was created in 1970 to “recognize the best of the teaching profession in Illinois.” Teachers are nominated by “someone with firsthand knowledge of the qualities possessed by the nominee that makes them worthy of statewide recognition.” After a rigorous application process, 10 teachers from all around the state of Illinois are selected to be the 10 Regional Teachers of the Year. It is from these 10 finalists that the State Superintendent of Education selects the Illinois Teacher of the Year.

The Illinois State Board of Education looks for a teacher that demonstrates the following qualities to be considered for the award:

    • A willingness to advocate for students and teachers;
    • Active collaboration within the professional learning community and with parents and families;
    • Exceptional dedication, knowledge, and skill in any state-approved or accredited school, pre-kindergarten through grade 12;
    • Inspiration to students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn;
    • A high level of respect and admiration of students, parents, and colleagues; and
    • Leadership and innovation in and outside of the classroom that embodies lifelong learning.

Mr. Johnson’s hard work as the band director at Niles West High School is one of the many factors that made him stand out among the applicants. Not only does Mr. Johnson work tirelessly for his students, but he also supports his peers by mentoring new teachers and helping facilitate diversity in teaching.

“Justin Johnson stood out in the selection process not only for the way he impacts the lives of his students but also in how he supports his peers,” said State Superintendent of Education, Carmen Ayala. “He makes it his mission to know his students on a personal level and use those connections to help him teach in a way that they understand.”

Niles West Principal Dr. Karne Ritter said, “Mr. Johnson is everything the Teacher of the Year Award represents. He is a kind, caring, role model who always has the students’ best interests in mind. During remote learning, performance-based courses like his band classes are some of the most challenging courses to teach via Zoom, but he has researched the best models and methods to provide an enjoyable and rigorous experience for his students. When I visited Mr. Johnson’s classroom last year, I felt that I could spend the whole day there. He is an intense instructor who is so in tune with his students and their needs and brings them all together in an ensemble setting. I would have loved to have had a teacher like Justin Johnson.”

Mr. Johnson had this to say about his experience, “Taking the leap of faith and deciding to go through with the application process was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I have met so many amazing people and there are so many doors that have been opened for me to advocate for my students and other teachers. I will never forget the feeling of being announced as the 2021 Illinois Teacher of the Year.”


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