TeJay Johnson and others at TeachDFW Summit.

Becoming part of the solution

Why this Division I athlete ‘turned down the draft’ and pursued teaching

What do the NAACP, the Horned Frogs, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and football have in common for me? These communities have all been important parts of my path to becoming an educator. And now, my experiences as a student leader and Division I athlete at Texas Christian University inform how I lead the young women and men I work with every day.

This article is part of our Teacher Appreciation Week campaign to honor inspiring educators. Check out other stories like TeJay's here.

Identify your passion

TeJay Johnson before and after teaching.

I never wanted to be a teacher. But, I have always been passionate about helping people, especially through mentorship. While I was a student at Texas Christian University, I had the privilege of playing for Coach Gary Patterson and being a part of the team that won the 2011 Rose Bowl for the second undefeated season in our school’s history. I was honored as an All American Safety and as a top three finalist for the Thrope Award. 

After the 2010 season, I had a solid shot at the NFL draft. A spot on a team wasn’t guaranteed, but going through the draft potentially meant never finishing my degree.

That wasn’t something I wanted to risk—I had always meant for football to be my ticket to and through college. So, I turned down the draft and went back to TCU in the fall for my super-senior year. 

I dove into various student leadership roles, volunteering as a mentor of high school students through Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and serving as president for TCU’s chapter of the NAACP. During one of our chapter meetings focused on educational equity, a recruiter from Teach For America, a teacher preparation program, asked if she could speak, and I was glad for her to attend. 

She told us about how teachers are the most important school-based factor for student achievement. 

She made it clear to us that if we really wanted to be a part of the solution of race-based opportunity and achievement gaps, we would make the most difference from inside of schools. I was sold. 

I never wanted to be a teacher, but now I can’t imagine anything else. I teach eighth-grade U.S. history at Ousley Jr. High School in Arlington ISD. I am the faculty advisor for YELO, the Young Emerging Leaders of Ousley, a student-led organization where young men on our campus develop perceptions of themselves as leaders in and out of school. I coach just about everything. 

I see my role as a teacher and, just as importantly, as a mentor—especially to the young black men in this school.

I know that I have unique and important things to offer them, shared experiences and a passion for accurately teaching the history of black people in this country.

TeJay Johnson before and after teaching.

Realize the power you hold

TeJay Johnson's Teacher of the Year award.

I am thankful for the opportunity to teach U.S. history. I get to help young people understand the challenges our nation has faced and the systems that have marginalized people throughout our history. I get to help them see how the impacts of those systems and those events still impact us all today. I nurture their ability to think critically about the world around them. 

I don’t want my students to only learn about the history of black people during the month of February; the history of our country and our world is incomplete without an understanding of the history of black people. 

The history of the United States, and the current state of our union, can be discouraging, especially for a young person of color. I get the opportunity to not just teach the horrible realities about oppressors and the oppressed, but also get to teach about the incredible examples of leadership, strength, resilience and power that have been so consistent in the history of black America. 

I help my students see that they, too, can be powerful, resilient and lead in the pursuit of what they believe is right for themselves, their communities and the world we live in. I am a part of the history of black people in this country. Every morning, I wake up and know that what I am doing is changing the statistics we see about achievement gaps, because I see my students grow, learn and realize the power that is within themselves.

TeJay Johnson's Teacher of the Year award.

Take the first step

Some days are really hard, but most days I have an absolute blast with my students, with my young leaders. I never wanted to be a teacher, but now I know that I have the best job.

If there is something inside of you that wants to be a part of history, something that you can share with young people—if you want a job that’s exciting, allows you to lead and has meaning—then I challenge you to take the next step to find out if teaching is right for you.

- TeJay Johnson

TeJay is a teacher in Arlington ISD, formerly taught at Fort Worth ISD, and is a Teach For America DFW Alum. He graduated from Texas Christian University where he was an All-American Safety on the TCU Football team. TeJay was the keynote speaker at the 2018 TeachDFW Future Teachers Summit.