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Mattei teacher honored by VFW

Adam Johnson

You never know what Mattei history teacher Adam Johnson might be wearing when he shows up to school. His 8th-grade U.S. history students know it’s going to be a good day in class when they see him with a top hat or decked out in a militia uniform.


His hands-on teaching style combined with his ability to create connections between students and history have earned him multiple honors.


He was recently recognized as the statewide middle school teacher of the year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and earlier this year, he earned both the post-level and district awards from the same organization.


Principal Jerry Quinton understands how the VFW selected Mr. Johnson for the honors.


“He is awesome with the kids, and he really lives the parts,” Mr. Quinton said. “He goes above and beyond to hammer home things to make history come alive.”


As a finalist for the VFW’s national award, Mr. Johnson could be making a trip to Washington D.C. in March when the VFW national teacher of the year will be announced.


Mr. Johnson started his teaching career three years ago at Southard Middle School where he taught history and coached.

Adam Johnson in Civil War attire.

“I knew I wanted to teach history,” he said. “I was looking for a district that was highly rated with a good atmosphere, and that’s what I found with Princeton.”


Since then, he taught at Clark last year, and when he had the opportunity to be the team lead and open a new middle school, he moved to Mattei in the fall and left behind his coaching duties.


“I have always loved history,” he said. “I knew I either wanted teach or work at a historic site. Now I get to talk about history all day, and they have to listen to me.”


This passion for history has driven most of Mr. Johnson’s hobbies.


After he went to a Civil War re-enactment in high school, he was hooked.


“I already loved history, so this was a way to really make it come alive,” he said. “I don’t do as many re-enactments as I used to, because I mainly stay involved with living history now.”


His closet is filled with museum quality reproductions, as well as some original pieces.

Antebellum attire.

For the study of the War of 1812, he can become a member of the militia from the Battle of New Orleans. For the Civil War era, he’s ready with his army gear, as well as the top hat for the antebellum period.


“I just line up the dress with whatever we are working on at the time,” Mr. Johnson said. “Whatever I can do to get them to ask questions. When you look goofy, they will ask questions.”


Although Mr. Johnson has only been teaching for three years, he is able to draw from his passion for the subject to make sure his students are engaged and learn the content through the interactive activities.


“Reading about history is great, but it makes so much more of an impact when you can see it, touch it and smell it,” he said.


Just ask his students.


“I like having Mr. Johnson as a teacher because the way he teaches the class is very inclusive,” Mattei 8th-grader Harland Dorr said. “He always figures out a way to involve the students. He likes for us to do projects, and it makes it more fun and helps us learn better.”


When the class studied the cotton gin, Mr. Johnson was ready with actual bags of harvested cotton, both with the seeds before they were removed by the gin and the clean cotton after it had been ginned.


“This helped them make a connection with what I was talking about,” he said.


Mattei students are already gearing up for an interesting spring semester.


Like he did for his Clark students last school year, Mr. Johnson has planned for the return of the replica Mountain Howitzer cannon.

Cannon demonstration to come to Mattei.

“It’s hard to explain to the students how loud it is on a battlefield,” he said. “They don’t realize the need for all the bugles and drums until they actually hear the sound of a cannon when it’s fired. I’m hoping for more than one cannon for the demonstration this year.”


It’s all part of Mr. Johnson’s teaching philosophy.


“A lot of history teachers are very boring, at least the ones I had,” he said. “I like to have fun. When I am having fun, the kids are having fun. They are listening and paying attention, and ultimately, they are learning more about history.”


Mr. Johnson believes the old cliché.


“History is important because we need to know where we’ve come from to see how it’s shaped where we are now,” he said. “We have to learn from history so we don’t repeat it.”

Mr. Johnson receives his first VFW award.