To receive the Missouri Educator of the year award, Darryl Johnson, Northwest Missouri State ’91, sat before the award panel prepared to list his teaching accomplishments. Then a panelist threw a curveball, “What has been your biggest failure in the classroom?” she asked.
We are accustomed to stories that praise personal achievement and mourn failure. Johnson, who is one of only five teachers in the nation to enter the 2013 class of the Teacher Hall of Fame, interprets his failure differently.
“I remember when she asked that question,” Johnson noted, “and I immediately thought of this student who I shamed only because I wanted to show my power and control in my classroom. That story reminded me that I don’t believe in the motto: ‘failure is not an option’. Without that failure, I would’ve never known success.”
Growing up in Port Washington, Wis., Johnson considered the military, but after a push from his mother, he decided to attend Northwest Missouri State. He befriended a SigEp and joined. Although he walked in with preconceptions about the Fraternity, Johnson quickly realized the SigEp difference.
“I was accepted immediately and never felt like I had to conform,” Johnson said, “I only felt like I had to live up to the ideals of SigEp, which are moral and ethical laws every person should live under.”
In SigEp, Johnson found his path to leadership in the model his brothers set for him.
“I paid attention to how older SigEps handled their leadership roles. I listened and observed how they communicated, and it was a huge reason I gained the confidence I have today.
“More than anything, it helped me with my communication skills, which ultimately have made me a better teacher,” he said.
Johnson was drawn to teaching after observing a remarkable English professor who showed him the importance of high expectations. Although he’s met with the U.S. Secretary of Education and been commended often for his work, Johnson has stayed at the school he’s taught in for the past 19 years.
His thoughts on teaching? He recalled a student he struggled with early on. “I remember that student told me, ‘If teachers obviously don’t care about teaching, I see no reason to care about learning.’ Caring has been the cornerstone of my teaching career.”