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Meet Shernice Johnson

Shernice Johnson: From Brooklyn to Becoming a Distinguished Math Teacher

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Shernice Johnson has always been skilled at numbers. However, her ability to connect with her students and make math accessible has made her a standout teacher in the borough.


Overcoming Challenges in the Classroom

Her journey has been marked by resilience, innovation, and a deep commitment to her students. From the outset, Shernice faced significant challenges, particularly with a coach who seemed to micromanage her every move and doubted her abilities as a "math person.

"This lack of support made her question her decisions and even her aptitude for teaching math. "I had to remember a teacher is also a student. A teacher must be willing to learn and make mistakes," she reflects.

Teaching black and brown students who share her background has been a source of immense pride and motivation for Shernice. Realizing she couldn't rely on her coach for support, she sought help elsewhere. She dedicated countless hours after school, consulted with other coaches, and practiced her lessons in front of friends. Her relentless effort bore fruit when 92% of her students passed the NYS math exam in the 2016-2017 school year, exceeding the network average of 68%. This remarkable achievement for a first-year teacher stood out in a network of 20 schools. "People in my school couldn’t believe this 1st-year, black math teacher was number one in the entire network," she recalls with pride.

Despite lingering doubts, Shernice and her students continued to excel. They maintained their top position in the network for math state test scores for three consecutive years. This consistent performance earned her school the prestigious National Blue Ribbon Award, placing them in the top 1% of statewide schools for the 2018-2019 school year.

"God showed them I can do it again, it wasn’t luck, but hard work and determination," she says.

Innovative Teaching Methods

Shernice Johnson's classroom is a beacon of innovation and engagement. When students struggle with math concepts, she first asks them to identify what is confusing. "I first ask them, ‘What is confusing? What is tricking you?’ I want to hear them vocalize what is confusing to them," she explains. She believes in using concrete models to help students grasp concepts conceptually rather than just procedurally. Although some teachers avoid these models due to time constraints, Shernice finds them invaluable for building a deep understanding of math.

For example, she uses fraction tiles to help students understand why the denominator remains the same while the numerator changes. This hands-on approach allows students to see that while the parts being referred to may change, the size of the fractions remains constant. Similarly, place value blocks help clarify regrouping in multiplication and division. Concrete models make learning sticky and transferable, ensuring students grasp and retain these fundamental concepts.

"When my students are having a difficult time understanding the concept abstractly, I will always go back to concrete models to make the learning sticky and transferable," she says.

Her classroom is a vibrant, engaging space where math is fun and relatable. Whether using Hershey’s Cookies and Cream bars to teach fractions or fake money to explain decimals, Shernice strives to make every lesson interesting. This approach has led to a classroom where students are eager to learn and disappointed if they miss a math class. "Every math lesson I have taught is interesting. My students do not want to miss math class," she says proudly.


Balancing Work and Self-Care

Balancing the demands of teaching with personal time and self-care is crucial, according to Shernice. She makes it a point never to bring work home, ensuring a clear boundary between her professional and personal life. She stays late two days a week to handle all work-related tasks, including reaching out to parents and preparing for upcoming lessons. During these times, she focuses solely on her tasks, often with some 90’s R&B or hip hop to keep her company. "Work is work; home is home," she states simply.

Shernice also believes in rewarding herself. After each payday, she treats herself to something she desires, whether it's a new perfume, shoes, or a spa day. These small rewards help her stay motivated and remind her to take care of herself. Self-care is essential; she needs to be at her best to give her best to her students. "I have to be the best version of me, to ensure my students are getting the best version of Ms. Johnson," she explains.


Advice for Aspiring Female Math Teachers

To women considering a career in math education, Shernice Johnson's message is clear: take the leap. She never imagined she would become a distinguished 4th-grade math teacher when she graduated from Buffalo State College. It took a lot of faith and courage to overcome her fears and embrace this path. "I gave my fears to God. I knew I was going to make mistakes, but I also knew I wasn’t going to be at the same place next school year," she shares. Change is always challenging and often uncomfortable, but it is necessary for growth.

Shernice emphasizes that no one becomes an excellent teacher overnight. It requires time, perseverance, and a supportive community. To all the women who are hesitant about teaching math, she encourages pushing past fears. Seek out professional development opportunities, read educational literature, watch instructional videos, and practice with colleagues. The journey may be tough, but the rewards are immense. "To all the women out there who are scared to teach math, I see you, I hear you. I was once just like you. Do not let fear stop you," she advises.


A Message of Encouragement

Shernice Johnson urges all women considering a career in math education to give it a try. The STEM field needs more women, and they have the qualities to be amazing teachers. She reminds them that mistakes are proof of trying, and growth takes time. Teaching is a continuous learning process, and there is no such thing as a perfect teacher.

"My students tell me how amazing I am daily," she says. What students need are kind, patient, loving, and determined teachers.

Shernice Johnson's journey is a testament to the power of resilience, innovation, and a deep commitment to education. Her door is always open to any woman looking for guidance and support. "Take a chance, as I said before change is scary, but it is needed for us to grow and blossom," she says encouragingly. Take the leap, and remember, you got this!

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