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Port Arthur ISD teachers of the year share school year lessons

Adapting and changing with the needs of their students are common factors among educators, especially those who are named Teachers of the Year.

Earlier this week, Port Arthur Independent School District leaders named their top educators; which include Dennis Johnson as the District-wide Elementary Teacher of the Year and Debbie Anderson, District-wide Secondary Teacher of the Year.

Johnson is a fifth grade science teacher at Port Acres Elementary School.

“This is such an honor to represent the district and to be selected among my peers,” Johnson said.

He admits it was a bit of a challenge in finding ways to reach students during the pandemic.

“We found something we could do differently and improve upon,” Johnson said. “We had to adapt in many ways as well as the students adapting.”

Johnson, who was raised in Port Arthur, and his wife Dana have a son, Daniel. Johnson is president of the Port Arthur chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.

“Education extends beyond the curriculum taught in the classroom,” he said. “The teaching profession is the conduit through which all other professions are made. As such, students must be equipped not only with content knowledge, but should see professionals that model high moral standards and comportment.

“I try to combine both ideals in my classroom daily by modeling the traits I want to see in my students and also by showing my students the “real world” implications of the material that they are learning. I strive to create students that are not only scholarly, but who also exemplify good character traits.”

Dr. Melissa Oliva, Thomas Jefferson Middle School principal; Debra Cartwright, special education director; Debbie Anderson teacher of the year, and Zelma Nico. (Courtesy photo)

Debbie Anderson, who is a special education content mastery teacher, also learned from challenges.

“When we first started back I didn’t think I would make it,” she said. “I really didn’t know what to do; then I had a mind shift and I decided to put this into the hands of the good Lord. This is going to be a way of life.”

Anderson is in a place for which she was destined. She started out as a bus aide in the transportation department then began to go to school at night.

“I finally decided this was my calling and this is what I wanted to do,” she said.

She went back to school, got her degree and certification and has been working since.

Her educational philosophy is a quote from Ignacio Estrada.

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn,” she said of the teacher quote. “Once I am aware of the students’ learning styles, then I can better understand how they learn and what methods of learning styles best fit them. By understanding how a child learns, then I can teach them the way they learn.”

Anderson and her husband, Eugene Anderson Jr., have been married for 42 years and have one son, Mark, and two grandchildren, Jordan and Jadan.

The 2021-2022 campus “Teachers of the Year” include: Shawntelle Allison, Wheatley; Debbie Anderson, Jefferson; Roland Dumes, Lincoln; Carissa Guidry, Lakeview; Terry Savoy-Hadley, Washington; Rebecca Harrison, Wilson ECHS; Willard Harrison, Travis; Dennis Johnson, Port Acres; Laura Khan, Adams; Sandra Olaye, Memorial 9th Grade Academy; Mariana Rendon, Houston; Jean-Leon Sakombi, Memorial High; Alfredo Jiminez Sanchez, Tyrrell; D’Juana Thibedeaux, DeQueen and Tanuya Worthy, PAAC.

The 2021-2022 campus “Rookies of the Year” include: Sandra Bellard, Memorial 9th Grade Academy; Caitlyn Belyeu, Wilson ECHS; Mika Benoit, Lincoln; Jada Botley, Washington; Cherith Cobbs, Memorial High; Brianna Forward, Travis; Tabitha Helmer, Adams; Taniquia Ned, DeQueen; Marc Owens, Jefferson; Luyen Pham, Houston and Misty Shamsher, Port Acres.