An interview with Rebekah Johnson, MSE, department chair and an assistant professor in the exercise and sport science department at Carthage College
Creating a climate of openness and understanding is a value that Rebekah Johnson had during her seven years as a K-12 health and physical educator. She has carried over this value into her career at Carthage College as she connects with students and adapts to change in order to inspire others, no matter what setting.
How did your interest in physical education and health education begin, and what kept you interested?
After one semester in college, I quickly changed my major from business to physical education. I come from a family of educators but could never see myself in the classroom. And it turns out, I could see myself in the gymnasium! Physical education was the right fit for me because it combined my love for working with children with my passion for health and fitness. I enjoy this profession because of the positive impact it can have on youth.
You hold several degrees and have experienced teaching in both the K-12 setting and postsecondary setting. What (or who) influenced you to pursue these opportunities and follow your passion for education? How were you encouraged to follow your passion for education?
I am always pursuing opportunities to learn and grow as a person and a professional. As an undergraduate, I had a strong desire to continue my education with the goal of becoming a professor. However, my advisor convinced me that I needed teaching experience first. I am so grateful for that advice and the seven years I spent as a K-12 health and physical educator. During that time, I was also a full-time student, completing my master’s degree in less than two years. To me, growth doesn’t occur only in the classroom. I have pursued opportunities to grow through service and scholarship. I value the opportunity to serve on the board for Wisconsin Health and Physical Education, where I get to collaborate with great minds in our profession. I have pursued opportunities to learn and present on teacher effectiveness through SHAPE America. I cannot pinpoint a single influencer but can trace a lot of my inspiration to quality mentors and colleagues throughout my career.
As you work with Gen Z students, what are you discovering or learning as an educator? What needs are you seeking to address when working with this current generation of students?
For me, it is first about getting to know students and creating an open line of communication, regardless of their age or generation—they all have different needs. Next, I use a cycle of teaching, assessing, and reflecting that can be applied to any learning environment (in-person, remote, or hybrid). Student learning and experiences in my classes are what help me evaluate the effectiveness of my instruction and inform my future decisions.
How have you had to adapt your teaching or presenting due to COVID-19? How has this helped to grow you professionally or personally?
As far as curriculum and instruction, I have had to adapt just about everything due to COVID-19—from the way I present and explain material to the ability to offer hands-on and authentic learning experiences. I have attended trainings, collaborated with colleagues, and experienced significant trial and error. But no progress would be made if I hadn’t created a climate of openness and understanding that allows for students to feel safe and supported.
What’s a memorable question you’ve been asked when someone has discovered your career is in physical education, and how did you answer it?
I often get asked if I miss the K-12 physical education setting. And the short answer is that I do miss teaching and interacting with students. I miss the dynamics of the staff in the building and the opportunities to create wellness opportunities for the district. But what I value more is the opportunity to inspire dozens of preservice teachers each year to pursue their own goals and to make an impact on future students, schools, and communities.
Rebekah Johnson is department chair and an assistant professor in the exercise and sport science department at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She is also the author of Physical Education edTPA Online Preparation Guide. Her area of expertise is in physical education teacher education, with a focus on teacher effectiveness. When she isn’t teaching and mentoring teacher candidates at Carthage College, Rebekah enjoys playing recreational volleyball and hiking or biking through state parks and trails with her family.