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Lifelong Learning

Reinertsen Teacher of the Year focuses on connecting with students

April 10, 2019

Third-grade teacher Kirsten Johnson didn’t go to college with the idea of becoming a teacher.

“I was young and had no idea what my role in the working world would be,” Johnson said. “I thought I’d work in public relations. However teaching found me.”

Named this year’s Reinertsen Teacher of the Year, Johnson has been a third-grade teacher at S.G. Reinertsen Elementary for the past four years. Prior to that, she taught first grade at Reinertsen for five years.

“My first experiences with kids at a camp where I taught outdoor education were so powerful and eye-opening,” Johnson said. “I was intrigued by the relationship part. Wherever I taught after that, I found that I could connect with students.”

Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree from Concordia College in 1987 in communications and English writing and her elementary education certification from Northeastern University in 1990.

She first taught outdoor education at a camp in California. Following that she taught fifth grade first at a private school in Los Angeles, next at a school outside of Boston, and then in Spring Lake Park, Minn. Johnson entered the business world and handled auto claims for State Farm Insurance for nine years and stayed home with her children.

“Once our family moved to Moorhead in 2005, I wanted to try teaching again and taught first grade in Barnesville for two years before moving to Moorhead Public Schools,” Johnson said.

Johnson doesn’t consider herself a great teacher, but she cares for her students, empathizes with them, and listens.

“I try to help students grow academically, socially and emotionally,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t until about two years ago during a cancer battle that I really came to understand that I am supposed to be a teacher. I am called to teach.”

According to Josh St. Louis, principal at Reinertsen Elementary, Johnson is a compassionate, creative and collaborative teacher, who leads by example.

“She is one of the biggest advocates for her students and co-workers,” St. Louis said. “Kirsten will work non-stop to find a solution to any needs they may have.”

Besides teaching, Johnson serves on the building leadership team and has previously served on the community building committee, literacy committee, and word study group.

“As a member of our building leadership team, Kirsten asks questions that make the team think, which helps to strengthen our beliefs in the work we are doing,” St. Louis said. “Finally, she is eternally positive in everything she does, regardless of what is going on with her own health.”

Johnson is committed to her students.

“I have many hopes for them,” Johnson said. “Some things I can influence in positive ways; some things are out of my control. I have a purpose in third grade. I have been placed where I am to do the hard work of teaching. I embrace the vocation.”

Johnson is thankful for her Reinertsen co-workers for their support.

“I would be nowhere without the Reinertsen faculty and staff,” Johnson said. “They have supported me through everything. My third-grade team is amazing, and I learn from them every day. I’m so proud to be a teacher at Reinertsen.”

Photo: Kirsten Johnson, third-grade teacher at S.G. Reinertsen Elementary and this year’s Reinertsen Teacher of the Year, discusses the characters introduced at the beginning of “Charlotte’s Web” with a small group of students.

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