CLAYMONT — For 16 years, Michael Johnson has been walking the halls of Archmere Academy, and he is still as enthusiastic as he was when he set foot on the campus for the first time. He loves the energy he feels when he is around his students, whether that’s in class, a sporting event or a student council meeting.
“The kids have really embraced me,” he said recently. “I walk around at lunch and just sit down at their table and just talk to them. At a lot of places, the teachers aren’t doing that and the kids aren’t welcoming that. And so, to feel comfortable doing that and to feel connected enough to those kids is really significant.”
Johnson was nominated for The Dialog’s “Teacher Feature” by Grace Koch, a junior at the school. She is a member of student council, for which Johnson is the moderator. She said Johnson “is an encouraging and inspiring teacher and student council leader. Mr. Johnson establishes a personal relationship with each of his students while still demanding respect. He fosters a learning environment and makes class fun!”
Johnson said it was special to be nominated.
“To hear that one of those kids that you see day-in and day-out appreciated what you did, and thought that you were really impactful, it just means the world,” he said.
He has taught theology and math to all grade levels, but Johnson currently teaches math to seniors and freshmen. He likes what the ninth-graders bring as newcomers to high school, and his advanced-placement statistics class with the seniors allows him to work with some of the best math students at Archmere.
“You have to be on your game every day. You’ve got to be ready for whatever questions they’re going to ask,” he said.
Johnson worked for a year in finance after graduating from Villanova University, where he majored in mathematical sciences. Archmere was hiring a director of campus ministry, and much of his extracurricular life at Villanova was in campus ministry. For his first six years at Archmere, he ran Kairos retreats, class events and school liturgies. He also taught a world religion class for four years, then added a math class as well.
He had a chance to go into the classroom full-time, and it was an opportunity he didn’t want to pass up. It has allowed him to be around the students all day.
Johnson grew up in Springfield, Pa., and attended St. Joseph’s Prep for high school. His mother works at Villanova, so there was little doubt where he would go to college.
“I like to call going to Villanova the best decision I never made. It’s hard to say no to free tuition,” he said.
Those institutions exposed him to Jesuit and Augustinian spirituality, and at Archmere he has met the Norbertine priests who founded the school and whose charism is still present. The Norbertines, he said, follow the rule of St. Augustine, so there are some similarities. He has had the chance to take students from Archmere to St. Norbert Abbey and St. Norbert College in Wisconsin to learn more about the order.
He also enjoys his work with the student council. He describes himself as loud and energetic, which fits in well with school spirit and the activities of the council, although he feels bad for the teachers who are in the classrooms next to him. It is a position he has held for about five years.
The nature of the position means that he is working with a mix of new students on the council each year along with returnees. New blood, he noted, means new ideas. He likes that they trust him and can count on him to explain why he approves or disapproves of any idea they bring to him.
Johnson has made many friends among the faculty and staff at Archmere, and a bunch were in attendance at his wedding in late October at St. Bernadette Church in Drexel Hill, Pa., where he and his wife, Kristen, live. Norbertine Father Joseph McLaughlin, the chaplain at the school, officiated at the Mass.
Johnson and his wife like to spend time with their extended families and friends. They enjoy escape rooms, something Johnson says he was introduced to by fellow Archmere teacher Dan Pisani. In the summer, he spends a lot of time at Archmere, as well as in Sea Isle City, N.J., where his grandmother has a house.
“We all hang out in our garage because it gets too loud in the house for my grandmother,” he said.
It’s not unusual for him to see his students and former students walking around Sea Isle, something that keeps him on his toes.
“It reminds me that all the time that I’m a rep of this place, and I’m an example to my students,” he said.