Cindy Johnson

Saint Peter, MN

I am a professor of biology. Teaching is my calling, my passion and love. It is through teaching that I am freest to express my true self. I can play.

Teaching is a playful dance staged in the wonders of biology. As the student learns the steps, the dance becomes a thing of beauty. Teacher and student, both rise to new ideas, inspirations and questions. The dance transcends culture, language and politics. We are all dancers, swirling around in a kaleidoscope of images, colors and discovery.

Cindy Johnson teaching TanzaniaIn break from my normal teaching – an “encore” of sorts – I found myself dancing in Tanzania, teaching at the College of African Wildlife Management in Mweka as a Fulbright Scholar from 2009 to 2011. My students were a mix of tribal heritages, Chagga, Maasai and Meru; all were African. I American. They took me in with my broken Kiswahili. Few could withstand the temptation of the dance and soon they were swirling enthusiastically.

In so many ways, these students are a world apart from my students in the United States. Few own computers or other electronic gadgets. Almost none have earplugs and iPods dangling about. Few have pierced body parts or tattoos. Most are better dressed than American professors; ties, dress pants and skirts are the norm here.

Yet, at the same time they are like students anywhere. Some are curious and motivated; others go through the motions only because it is required. They laugh hard and dance hard. They groan when assignments are long and hard. They cringe or seek high 5’s with assessment results. The excitement of discovery and new ideas motivates them and the sheer drudgery of learning discourages them. They beam with the smallest bit of attention.

Cindy Johnson with studentsI am blessed. Though plants are my passion, it is education and working with young adults that is my calling. I am privileged to work with the best and brightest of our youth, as well as the confused and conflicted. Perhaps it is the eternal optimist in me that relishes this work with young people.

When one of my African students died in a car accident, my heart grieved for his family and friends. Time and community helps us process these losses, but I am reminded that the promise and joy of life don’€™t belong solely to young people. We must carry it throughout our lives. To do otherwise is to denigrate those who didn’€™t have the opportunity.

I am a teacher of biology and a student of life and death. I’ve learned many new steps in this dance. It is an eternal celebration of the relationship between teacher and student, mentor and mentee, elder and youth, parent and child; a celebration of life and all that we have to learn about living and dying. To dance is to embrace life, to honor the sacred. Our time is brief, the music is sweet, let us dance.