Teach For America South Carolina 2014
Math Teacher, Carver Middle School
Ashley Johnson comes from a long line of educators. One educator, her grandfather, served as the first Black superintendent in the Spartanburg school system.
Still, Johnson didn’t always think of education as her true calling until she heard about Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC) from a friend.
“I liked what TFASC stood for – giving back to the community and giving students a quality education no matter where they happened to live,” she said.
From 2014 to 2018, Johnson taught eighth-grade math and Algebra 1 in Manning, S.C., a place she’d only known before as “a little town off I-95 on the way to the beach.”
The little town claimed a big piece of her heart.
“TFASC got me in the door,” Johnson confessed. “Now, I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Many teachers remember their first year as notoriously hard with a steep learning curve. Johnson’s classrooms at Manning Junior High School were no exception.
She taught multiple classes with 30-plus students at a time. She learned that every kid at the school was on a free or reduced-price lunch program. Many lived on dirt roads that Atlantic rainstorms turned to mud. Buses couldn’t reach kids to bring them to school, and internet connections could be balky.
Despite the challenges, students had a hunger to learn. Johnson saw a 100 percent pass rate all four years she taught at Manning Junior High School. One student struggled until Johnson built a relationship with him and his mother. He later told Johnson, “I graduated because of you.” Another student confided, “I want to be a math teacher because of you.”
In 2018, Johnson moved back to her hometown of Spartanburg to teach eighth-grade math at Carver Middle School. She sees education changing.
“Honestly, there are practices showing up now that have been pioneered by TFASC,” said Johnson. “My district, for example, launched a big focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion last year. TFASC was ahead of the curve on that.”
She is married to Brandon Johnson, a TFASC alumnus who transitioned from the classroom to administration. He is now the assistant principal at Eastside High School in Taylors, S.C. The couple have a nice balance.
“I help Brandon remember what it’s like in the classroom,” said Johnson. “He helps me understand what it’s like in administration.”
Knowing the classroom is fundamental according to Johnson.
“People who have never been in classrooms are making decisions for teachers,” she said. “If it were up to me, I’d only hire teachers to leadership positions. If you haven’t been an educator, you simply don’t know what it’s like.”
Johnson feels strongly that more can be done to support her profession.
“Teachers can’t pour from an empty cup,” she said. “We need to take care of teachers, so they can continue to give their all to students.”
Would she recommend TFASC to people seeking a career in education?
“Absolutely,” said Johnson. “We have so much to offer in South Carolina. These kids will blow you away every day.”