Once upon a time, school children were familiar with classic fairy tales.
Yet according to Carla Johnson, a fifth grade teacher at West Newton Elementary School, by the age of ten, most students today have never been exposed to timeless stories such as Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, Puss In Boots, Tom Thumb, Goldilocks, Snow White and Cinderella.
"A couple years ago, I bought a hardback copy of fairy tales and started reading the stories aloud every day," Johnson explained. "I was shocked. You wouldn’t believe the kids who had never heard any of it before."
For this reason, Johnson incorporates fairy tales into her curriculum by making a point to read often and to weave fairy tales into various class projects throughout the year. She said she becomes animated when she reads by altering her expression and her tone of voice. Her students get a kick out of listening to the tales — many of which were originally written with language variations that can be hard for today’s children to understand.
"I’m energetic and fun and a little crazy," Johnson said. "Even though a lot of the stories are written in some type of older English, a lot of the students decide to go buy the book as soon as they listen to me read aloud from it."
Aside from exposing her students to forms of classic literature, Johnson enjoys teaching her students about the writing process. Last year, Johnson and fellow fifth grade teacher Bridgette Norris introduced an instructional program to West Newton Elementary teachers called Writers Workshop. Johnson and Norris presented the educators with ways to assist students in various grade levels in mastering steps of writing including prewriting, drafting, editing, proof reading and publishing.
"It’s becoming a county-wide program," Johnson explained. "The theory behind it is that the more a student writes, the better he or she will read."
As a result of the program, students at West Newton (and in other schools in the county) are learning the four different types of writing: response to literature, narrative writing, persuasive writing and informational writing. Students learn one writing genre every nine weeks and produce a published piece before moving to the next writing topic.
"It is especially important in fifth grade because it helps prepare the kids for the statewide writing test that comes up in the spring," Johnson said.
Johnson has been teaching elementary school in Newton County for nine years. She began her career at Middle Ridge Elementary and eventually moved to West Newton. She has enjoyed teaching a variety of grade levels including second, third and fourth grades.
"But I like fifth grade best," she said. "My personality fits better with the older kids," said Johnson, who aspires to someday become a college professor.
Johnson acquired her teaching degree non-traditionally. Encouraged by her mother, she attended Waynesburg College as an adult and received her teaching certification after she was married and had given birth to a daughter. As the only person in her extended family possessing a bachelor’s degree, she is also the first teacher in her entire family. Johnson obtained her master’s degree from Troy State University in 2003.
"I was working full time, raising a family, and I still made time to get my master’s degree," she said. "I was very proud of myself for doing that."