Robert Johnson

Prekindergarten teacher
Washington Teachers Union
Washington, DC

Robert JohnsonRobert Johnson knows what it’s like to stand at the crossroads in public education. Thirty-five years ago, when the Washington, D.C., teacher and member of the Washington Teachers’ Union entered the profession, he was one of the few males taking up the major challenge of working with prekindergarten children.

“I must have done it for 12 or 13 years by myself,” the prekindergarten teacher at Lafayette Elementary School says of the early 1980s, when he was the district’s only male teacher in early childhood education. “We were missing a golden opportunity for men to be working with young children, especially those who didn’t have any positive male role models in their lives to help nurture them.”

Breaking through that isolation has been a key to his success after nearly three decades in the classroom. Many of the changes Johnson has seen over the years have left him convinced that a vibrant, active union is pivotal in attracting and keeping talented professionals as well as positive role models in the classroom.

“The union has been pretty instrumental in furthering our goals,” Johnson says, and nowhere is a strong union voice more necessary than in the area of professional evaluation. “Everything is based on a number, and I haven’t seen any research showing that this approach is any more effective.” What he has seen, however, is that “teachers are getting cut short of their ability to be creative,” and a strong union voice is needed now more than ever to forge a system of professional evaluations that are rich, robust and, above all, transparent.