What does the band the Cure have to do with literature? More than one might think.
“ ‘Killing an Arab’ is about ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus,” Stacey Dallas Johnston explains. It’s composer Robert Smith’s attempt at condensing the short French novel into a song.
For that reason, Johnston played it to her high school class to show English isn’t just about reading books and writing papers — it’s about connecting to the subject matter.
Johnston teaches advanced placement English, 11th-grade English and creative writing at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.
Hands-on, project-based learning is something she has always advocated, but that belief was strengthened when she studied the topic in graduate school.
“It gave me the hard-core facts,” she said. “(Students) don’t grasp as much unless you can make it personal.”
To teach transcendentalism, Johnston took her classes outside to focus on nature. To explore gender expectations, students made dolls that debunked, confronted or satirized norms. Around Christmas, they made tree ornaments honoring poets and poetry.
For her creativity and dedication to her students, Johnston was named Clark County educator of the month for November.
She was chosen by a panel that includes members of the Clark County School Board, the Public Education Foundation, Teach for America and private school representatives.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal and Sierra Nevada College sponsor the program.
All monthly winners will be honored at an end-of-the-school-year banquet, where an educator of the year will be named.
Creativity is not Johnston’s only strong suit.
In 2005, she worked with and helped expand the high school’s student council. She helped raise money to fund field trips and organized food and clothing drives to teach her students to care for others.
“That helped us to get back on our feet,” said Meryl Schulte, a former student who nominated Johnston for teacher of the month. “She really encouraged us to think of ways to incorporate into student council things we were really interested in.”
While Schulte was in school, the students organized benefits for Darfur, Sudan, and Doctors Without Borders. Three years in a row the council won the Three Square Food Bank drive after hauling in more than 10,000 pounds.
Johnston has been a teacher for 14 years. She started her career at Robison Middle School in east Las Vegas.
Johnston studied English in college, thinking she might later study law, but her plans changed.
“Something clicked along the way,” she said. “I knew I needed a more creative outlet.”
To engage her students, Johnston uses technology in the classroom, including online discussion forums and digital learning, including arts, graphics and film.
She learned the techniques in professional development courses and now finds herself on the other side of the podium, teaching technology and project-based learning at conferences.
Johnston was inducted into the Clark County School District’s Teacher Hall of Fame in 2012 and has National Board Certification, an advanced teaching credential.
Johnston’s husband is a physical education teacher at LVA, and they have a 10-year-old in fourth grade and a 5-year-old in kindergarten.
Johnston puts her full effort into work and home and expects the same of her students, but she loves them, along with her historic school and colleagues.
“We have an artistic community that’s unlike any other in town,” she said. “Regardless of chipped paint, we do amazing things here every day.”
Contact reporter Kristy Totten at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3809. Follow @kristy_tea on Twitter.