Professional News

‘Great Teacher’ Kayla Johnson strives to open doors for her students

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 6, 2024) — In March, the University of Kentucky Alumni Association honored six recipients with this year's Great Teacher Awards.  Launched in 1961, they are the longest-running UK award recognizing accomplished and passionate educators. 

In order to receive the honor, teachers must first be nominated by a student. The UK Alumni Association Great Teacher Award Committee, in cooperation with the student organization Omicron Delta Kappa, then makes the final selection. Recipients receive a commemorative award and stipend. 

Kayla Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UK College of Education and one of the distinguished 2024 Great Teacher Award recipients, strives to open doors for her students.  

“The doors of higher education and academia can be really heavy and we often shut those gates in people's faces. I'm constantly reminded that those gates would have been shut in my face had it not been for my own professors believing in me, seeing my potential and wanting to invest in me and pour into the goals that I had for myself and recognizing the needs that I had because I was a first-gen student,” she said.  

Johnson uses this same philosophy for her students,  

“I am always thinking, what is the potential here? What is it the student wants out of their education and how can I help open those doors so they can realize that path?”  

In the classes Johnson teaches in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation, she focuses on leading with values and coaching her students through their challenges.   

“I always come back to ‘What are your values and are you always enacting those in what you do?’ If they aren’t, I ask them, ‘Are you going to own that, or are you going to change it?’”

Johnson says she is honored to be named a “Great Teacher” and uses her own experiences to guide her. 

“I always wanted to be a teacher because the people who I looked up to most in my life were often my teachers,” she said. “Being able to think I have students who now think of me that way is an incredible honor. I don’t know if there’s anything that’s going to top that in my career, to be honest.” 

Johnson earned a dual-title Ph.D. in higher education and comparative and international education from the Pennsylvania State University, a master’s in higher education from UK and a bachelor’s in English, French and secondary Education from Marshall University. In addition to being an assistant professor in the UK College of Education, Johnson also serves as director of Graduate Global Learning Initiatives, where she aims to further internationalize the graduate student experience. She also serves as deputy editor of the American Journal of Education.

In addition to being a Great Teacher, Johnson received the 2023 Outstanding Advising Award from NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising.  

To learn more about what makes Johnson a “Great Teacher,” check out the video above.  

In the coming weeks, UKNow will continue to share videos featuring this year’s Great Teacher Award winners. 

Kayla Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UK College of Education, is a distinguished 2024 Great Teacher Award recipient.
Kayla Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UK College of Education, is a 2024 Great Teacher Award recipient.

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