Teacher of the Year: Justin Johnson


Director of Bands, Justin Johnson.

By Gloria Kosir, Features Editor

Every year, Niles West students select a deserving teacher to win the David L. Zemsky Teacher of the Year Award. This year, Director of Bands Justin Johnson won. Students were more than happy to nominate and vote for him.

“Mr. Johnson constantly dedicates his time, energy, and talents towards the wellbeing of his students. Every day he encourages us to grow, far more than the environment at West expects us to. Even though he is enrolled in classes of his own and has [three] young kids of his own at home, he never fails to be there for a student in need of help,” Paige Hoffman, a student of Johnson, said.

“Mr. Johnson is a nice person but also expects a lot from his students. Not once have I seen him show any bias among his students in the three years I’ve had him either,” Jonathan Perkins, another one of Johnson’s students, said.

“My reaction to everything was first and foremost, surprise. This school year has been the most difficult year of my teaching career, and that was before the abrupt transition to e-learning. This year has been a very challenging year for me but has also been one of the most rewarding of my career,” Johnson said.

Johnson has been the Director of Bands at Niles West for almost eight years. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of Memphis and has also completed other work from Eastern Illinois University. At Niles West, he conducts the concert and symphonic bands, as well as the symphonic wind ensemble. In addition to these three groups, Johnson also manages the pep, marching and jazz bands. He also conducts the orchestra pit during the spring musical.

Under Johnson, the bands at Niles West have come very far. The wind ensemble performed at the State Concert Festival in 2011, and Johnson has led countless members of his band to all-region honor bands. Personally, he has many musical accomplishments. He was a member of the instructional staff of the DCI World Champion Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps in 2016, and on staff for the US Army All-American Marching Band. Johnson was selected as a finalist for the 2016 Golden Apple Award, an extremely honorable award offered to teachers in the state of Illinois.

Director of Fine and Applied Arts Patti-Anne Ford is especially glad that Johnson won Teacher of the Year.

“Mr. Johnson never wants credit for what he does or what he has meant to our school. He simply asks for hard work and dedication from those who surround him, and he gets results. He has always put his students and music program first. For Justin’s excellent skill and expertise that have tremendously impacted our students, our music department and our school, he is undeniably worthy of the Teacher of the Year award. Mr. Johnson has sent the message that while the work of a musician is challenging, it is achievable with focus, attention to detail, and a dedication to practice,” Ford said.

“I am so thankful for all of my wonderful students, especially the graduating seniors. I am really struggling with the fact that I haven’t been able to work with the students face to face this year for us to make music together. It is especially saddening for my seniors that what is likely their most meaningful year of school has been affected in this manner,” Johnson said.

The award is typically formally given to the recipient during the Accolades ceremony each May; however, due to the Coronavirus, students and staff who wanted to celebrate Johnson’s recognition came up with a creative solution. They drove by in their cars and led a mini-parade, complete with honks and signs.

“One of the highlights of finding out about the teacher of the year award on Friday was being able to see many of the students. It is such an honor to be awarded such a prestigious award, and this will definitely be one of the highlights of my career,” Johnson said.