Public Education Matters

Education is often a family business, with generations of great educators following a parent's footsteps into the profession. For Columbus Education Association member Tara Johnson, education was certainly in her blood, but it wasn't her first career choice. For this final installment in the A Legacy of Education series, Tara Johnson, and her mom Terry Johnson, a retired Columbus teacher, sat down to share their thoughts on how the profession has changed, the need to create better pipelines to get educators of color into the profession, and why they would recommend this career to others.

HEAR MORE 'A LEGACY OF EDUCATION' EPISODES | To listen to previous Education Matters interviews featuring parents and their children who have followed them into careers in education, check out these episodes: 

Featured Education Matters guests: 
  • Terry Wiggs Johnson, retired educator
    • Terry graduated from Central State University College of Education in 1967. She received her Masters of Education from Xavier University in Cincinnati in 1972. She taught for Dayton Public Schools, Buffalo Public Schools and then moved to Columbus in 1969. She taught for 32 years as an elementary school teacher and a reading teacher. Terry Johnson always enjoyed working with elementary students, especially in Language Arts.
  • Tara Johnson, Columbus Education Association member
    • Tara is a product of Columbus City Schools. She graduated from Mifflin High School. She is the daughter of Terry Wiggs Johnson and Theodore W. Johnson who both graduated from Central State University in the late 60’s. Both are also retired Columbus City School teachers. Coming from a household of educators, who graduated from Central State University, she followed in their footsteps and graduated from Central State University, but refused to go into education. She pursued a degree in Finance, instead. While at Central State she was very active. She was a member of the Finance and Investment Society, College of Business Student Advisory Council, Tour Guide, Resident Assistant, and a Student Ambassador. She worked for the Vice President for Finance as a student worker. She also continued to volunteer at Main Street Elementary School in Columbus when she came home during breaks.  
    • After graduation, Tara began to work at Central State in the finance department. She volunteered with the Student Affairs area and worked very closely with the Alumni Affairs office. After leaving Central State University, she went on to two other universities, Kent State University and Virginia Union University, to work. 
    • She decided it was time to get a master’s degree, so she enrolled in Eastern Michigan, where she completed a Master’s Program in Individualized Studies in Higher Education Administration and Finance. Upon graduating from Eastern Michigan, she decided to continue to pursue her career in Higher Education and worked at Virginia Community College Systems and Wright State University. While at Wright State University, she began to look for something different. Tara had done some volunteer work in her aunt’s classroom and some substitute teaching for Columbus City Schools while getting her master’s degree, so she decided to teach at the K-12 level. 
      Tara went back to Central State University to get her licensure to teach in Social Studies at the high school level, saying she felt like high school students were closer to the college students she was used to working with for the past 20 years. Due to Covid, it took her longer than I had expected, but she completed my licensure program in Spring of 2021. 
    • Tara began teaching at Eastmoor Academy High School in the Fall of 2021. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and a life member of Central State University Alumni Association. 
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Connect with OEA:
About us:
  • The Ohio Education Association represents about 120,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and universities to help improve public education and the lives of Ohio’s children. OEA members provide professional services to benefit students, schools, and the public in virtually every position needed to run Ohio’s schools.
  • Education Matters host Katie Olmsted serves as Media Relations Consultant for the Ohio Education Association. She joined OEA in May 2020, after a ten-year career as an Emmy Award winning television reporter, anchor, and producer. Katie comes from a family of educators and is passionate about telling educators' stories and advocating for Ohio's students. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and two young children.
This episode was recorded on May 21, 2023.

What is Public Education Matters?

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at

Intro 0:07
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Katie Olmsted 0:16
Welcome back to Education Matters. I'm your host, Katie Olmstead. And if you've been a regular listener throughout this season of the podcast, you'll remember we've been highlighting family connections that have led many of Ohio's educators into the profession. On this episode, we're bringing you the final installment in that special A Legacy of Education series, sitting down with Terry and Tara Johnson. Terry retired in the late 90s after teaching for many years in elementary schools in Columbus City Schools. Her daughter Tara is now in her second year of teaching African American Studies and Modern World History at Eastmoor Academy High School in Columbus. Tara actually came to teaching in high school as her second career after being an educator and administrator at the higher ed level for years. For Tara Johnson, there was something inevitable about ending up in the high school classroom. Her mom, dad and great aunt were all teachers. And teaching was really just in her blood. Tara and her mom, Terry, join us for this episode, to share their thoughts.

Katie Olmsted 1:30
Terry Johnson, Tara Johnson, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down together to share your thoughts with us. This is the final installment in the legacy of education special mini series throughout this season of the podcast. And it is just such a great opportunity for us to really explore how it is you ended up in the education profession and the ties, the family ties that made that happen. Now, when we were sitting down to talk, Tara, I said, So what made you follow Terry into the profession? And you corrected me. It wasn't Terry, that you followed into the profession. What can you tell me?

Tara Johnson 2:11
I followed my father, he was a high school physical education teacher. And I follow him into high school. Oh, he also taught health, and he was part of recreation. He was a coach. He coached basketball for many years at Roosevelt? Middle school?

Terry Johnson 2:33
Junior high school.

Tara Johnson 2:34
Junior high school. And I follow him into education. Because my mother told me when I thought about going into education, she told me that I would not make enough money to maintain the lifestyle that I she knew I would become accustomed to. So.

Katie Olmsted 2:59
Terry, what did you want Tara to do?

Terry Johnson 3:01
I want Tara to do whatever made her happy. And I wasn't sure education would make her happy. However, because of the history of education in my family, and her father's family, it was inevitable. So she tried to stay away.

Tara Johnson 3:22
So my original degree from Central State University is in finance. And so I was a university administrator and in finance, on the finance side for about 20 years. And I got tired of it and decided to go into K-12.

Katie Olmsted 3:40
Why make that transition?

Tara Johnson 3:41
I just I was bored. I was - You can only crunch numbers for so long. And I had done other stuff in between, you know, and I and I wanted to, as I say I wanted to play with the kids. Um, I also realized that when an administrator tells you the same thing that a 15 year old tells you, you understand why the why the 15 year old says something to you because, you know, they're young and inexperienced. But when an administrator tells you something crazy, you're like, Okay, I can't do this anymore. So I realized that I liked the students, and them more than I liked adults, so I decided to play with the kids. And it's fun.

Katie Olmsted 4:32
Yeah. But Terry, you played with the kid kids. You were an elementary teacher before you retired, right?

Terry Johnson 4:39
I was.

Katie Olmsted 4:41
What did you love about teaching?

Terry Johnson 4:43
I love the kids. And I guess I shared this a lot with Tara. I liked talking with them. I liked listening to them talk. I liked watching them work all the little maneuvers that they went through when they were working. I liked the fact that - and I've worked with first grade, I taught third grade for quite a few years. And then I taught first grade. And then I went into the reading program where I was helping the students that were having difficulty with reading in the in the Title program. And I did that as I was, before I retired. And I just enjoyed the age. I enjoyed watching them, watching their little minds work and watching them, you know, like that that light bulb went off. But that was what I that was what I worked for.

Tara Johnson 5:39
And that's what I love. I love the light bulb moments, where they're like, I get it, and I'm like, Oh, my God, thank you. Oh, that was so hard. And even and even as a senior advisor, watching them have fun. That, I love that part too. So yeah.

Katie Olmsted 6:01
Well, Tara, you mentioned it, that was hard. You're in the second year of your K-12. career. And these are hard years for any educator. Are you able to lean on your parents to help you, I guess, maybe fortify you through the hard times and get the advice you need to get through it?

Tara Johnson 6:23
Oh, my father passed away about a year ago.

Katie Olmsted 6:26
Oh, I'm sorry.

Tara Johnson 6:27
Oh, thank you. And so I come home every day asking him questions. And my parents retired 25 years ago in 1998. So me asking them questions, and they looking at me like, I don't know, I don't remember. I guess so. Or, Yes, Do this, do this, do this, or here do this. So I relied on my dad a whole lot when he was alive, and I would ask him questions. And he would answer them all. He was patient and willing to answer them all. Um, even when it comes to CEA, and OEA and NEA, they were able to answer all of my questions like you need to do this. And when we went on strike at the beginning of the year, they were like, you go out there and you walk that picket line with them. Because I was an administrator, so I was I had sat on the other side. So I didn't understand the union side of it. And they were the ones who helped me understand the union side. And I was appreciative of that. So everything from attendance, to the union, to classroom management, they helped me with.

Katie Olmsted 7:46
Terry, if you retired in the late 90s, I bet a lot has changed about how classrooms are managed now. I mean, the technology alone is very, very different. What is what is it like for you hearing what Tara's everyday is like now?

Terry Johnson 8:01
There's quite a lot of technology involved today, a whole lot more than when I started teaching. When I started teaching -

Tara Johnson 8:10
A mimeo machine.

Terry Johnson 8:12
We had, right, we had a mimeograph machine that you hand cranked. Of course, I did move on to the better machines, but it was also like, the equipment in your classroom was a tape recorder, a record player. And then we kind of evolved to a little bit more sophistication. And I did do some substitute teaching after I retired. And it was the the whiteboard, not the whiteboard, the smart board. And I just knew that my, even my subbing days were coming to an end because the the equipment was smarter than I was. And I didn't think that I would be able to. I've had people ask me to go back and, and sub and I don't think that I would feel comfortable subbing with the technology. It's just, it's that has really changed, the students are still the same.

Katie Olmsted 9:11
Tara, do you think the students are still the same? We're hearing, it's been it's been difficult coming out of the pandemic, there's been a lot of extra problems with student behavior. You know, anecdotally, some teachers have told me, it feels like the students just didn't socialize. They weren't, like socialized during the pandemic, and they forget how to act in class. Is that something you're seeing in your school? Or do you just not have anything to compare that with because you weren't teaching before the pandemic?

Tara Johnson 9:39
Um, I had, because I was in higher ed, I had the 18 to 24 year olds, so I still had students.

Katie Olmsted 9:49

Tara Johnson 9:50
They were just older. Um, and so this is a different breed of students, but it was a different breed of students, even prior to the pandemic. I think this new breed of students that's going in is on more of a survival mode.

Katie Olmsted 10:13

Tara Johnson 10:14
And I don't think one of the things that I realized is that K-12 does not have the mental help that it needs. We have social workers trying to fix problems that we really need psychologists and sociologists and therapists to do, and they just don't have the capabilities. And my other concern is, is that are there enough of those people getting degrees to help everybody that needs the help that's out there? The mental health field is starting to look like the education field. And they're just not enough people out there to help everybody that needs to be helped. And I think that's one of our biggest problems in K-12. We have kids who need mental health. And you're asking teachers to do that, along with feed them, clothe them, and do everything else. And I think that's the biggest problem that we have in K-12, is the mental health challenge that's out there.

Katie Olmsted 11:39
And that same problem with with attracting and retaining people to the education profession as there is in attracting and retaining people in the mental health profession, that means more of a workload for the educators who are in the schools who are trying to do the jobs of many people at the same time, right?

Tara Johnson 11:57
Yes, very much so, very much so.

Katie Olmsted 12:00
Terry, was it like that when you were teaching?

Terry Johnson 12:03
Not to the extent that it is today. We had issues with children who needed to be identified and given help. And you do the you know, you do the usual write them up, talk to other people, talk to parent, you know, talk to the support people that are there. And of course, there's never enough support to help, whether it's the counselor or, most of the time in the schools and elementary schools there's only a counselor to to catch every every child. And sometimes the counselor isn't even assigned to your school every day of the week. So there are there are there have always been staffing issues, and there have always been children who have serious needs.

Katie Olmsted 12:56
I think one of the perennial staffing issues throughout the history of education, is that we don't have a workforce that looks like the students we're serving. In Ohio, overwhelmingly, the education workforce is female and white, when our students are not necessarily looking like that. I think we have about 17% of students in Ohio are Black, but only 4% of teachers are. Both of you are African American women. What is it like for you to see sort of that stagnation, where we have still overwhelmingly white female teachers in the classrooms? And what does that mean for the students?

Tara Johnson 13:42
They don't see themselves. I have had students who will respond to me in a totally different way that they respond to the white teachers, because they know that that I'm not gonna, that's not gonna happen. You're not going to do that to me. And you're not going to say that to me. And they know that. I'm in Columbus City Schools. Our African American population is 65%. But we only have 19% of African American teachers. That's ridiculous. That's ridiculous. And they're not recruiting the way they need to. You have an HBCU around the corner. And you're not recruiting from that HBCU, who has a college of education. You know, when I was at Central State University, getting my degree in education, there were 10 graduates and 22 schools, from all over the country. These kids at, the students at Central State University, had the pick of whatever state they wanted to go to, and whatever school system they wanted to go to. We're not even keeping our teachers in the state of Ohio. And that's problematic. But it also goes back to, are we recruiting teachers in elementary, middle and high school? We have to convince these students to become teachers in elementary school and high school. And then there are people who want to become teachers, who as a second career, like me, but the pathway to do that is too strenuous. They have to stop working to student teach for 12 weeks. No. Student teaching should be a paid internship, just like it is for people who have a degree in finance, who have a degree in computer science, who have a degree in business. You shouldn't have to stop working and do a free internship for 12 weeks. I'm not saying taking student teaching away, because I think that is mandatory, you need that experience. And student teaching isn't even half of what you experience as a first year teacher. But it needs to be paid.

Katie Olmsted 16:07

Tara Johnson 16:08
I need some money,

Katie Olmsted 16:10
I want to go back to one of the things that you mentioned, which is about recruiting in elementary school. And that, again, comes back to having people who look like you in school, so you can see yourself in that role. Terry, when you were teaching elementary schoolers, did you get a sense of like, wow, that kid is going to be a great teacher someday? And did you tell that kid?

Terry Johnson 16:33
Actually it was possible to see students who would become good teachers. They were leaders in the classroom; they maybe took charge of duties with more sincerity. And when I was teaching elementary school, there were a lot of kids that would say I want to be a teacher. It wasn't hard to, to encourage them, at least not for me. Maybe because I was an African American teacher teaching African American children. They could see me. They could see principals who were African American. And also the support staff that they could see would be African American in a lot of cases. So they had more opportunities at 20, 30 years ago, 40 years ago. And I think that helped, even though the farther, the farther back I go, the earlier I teach, there would maybe be one or two other African American teachers in the in the school that I taught at, especially when I was not in Columbus. When I was in Columbus, there were more African American teachers in elementary school than there are now.

Katie Olmsted 17:52
That's interesting. I was gonna say, based on the stats that Tara shared, there's still a long way to go. But based on what you just said, there, Terry, it seems like we were in a better place. And now there's even more work to do. Is that right?

Terry Johnson 18:06
That's my opinion. Yes. I have any statistics on that. But that's my opinion.

Katie Olmsted 18:11
Just what you were seeing from your own experience?

Tara Johnson 18:14
Yeah. But even when I was at Central State in the 90s.

Katie Olmsted 18:19
For the first time.

Tara Johnson 18:20
Yeah, when I was at Central State the first time in the 90s, there will be like 500 students in the college of education. Right now, we probably have about 150 to 200 students in our College of Education. So the problem is not just recruiting students. But our problem is also - our problem is not graduating, but recruiting.

Katie Olmsted 18:45

Tara Johnson 18:45
If you have 500 students to pick from them, yeah, but now there's only 150, you know. And one of the things that I think is that growing up, education was a safe job. And as African Americans, we might not have been able to work in the business field or be a scientist. So we would go into education. But now I think with other fields opening up, African Americans are saying I don't have to do that. But the problem is, is that they still want their children to be educated by African Americans. But they don't have to go into that field. And that's become problematic. You want everybody wants their child to have a diverse population. But you don't want to be the one to go into that diverse population. Or you don't want your kids to be educators because you don't, you know, that they're not going to make any money. You know, and that's problematic.

Katie Olmsted 19:51
Right. So, on this one side of the coin, where it's great, finally, all of these other careers are opening up for everyone, we also need to make sure that this particular career is an attractive, sustainable career for everybody of every background.

Tara Johnson 20:07

Katie Olmsted 20:08
And certainly there's a lot of work to do there as well.

Tara Johnson 20:11
Yes, yes.

Terry Johnson 20:14
In the last few seconds that we have, Tara, what would be your message to your high school students right now or to anybody who's just considering this as a second career? What would you tell them?

Tara Johnson 20:26
Do it. It's a whole lot more fun and rewarding than you would realize. I think about my students more than I, I should. I do, I think about them like, okay, what are we doing next week? All right, let's do this. Or what fun are we gonna have? And what fun? As senior advisor, you know, let's go do this. Or let's go do that. Or can we do this? Or can we, how much is it gonna cost to do this? Or do you want to do this? You know, because I want their senior year to be fun. You know, and I want the freshmen and the sophomores and juniors to say, Well, I can't wait til I'm a senior. I'm going to do all of that. And then there's the educational part, you know, the learning. Like, Hey, did y'all know this? Did y'all know this? And what they get excited about. Next week, we're, my class is doing presentations on African American and Latina inventors, and they're just excited. They're like, Oh, did you know such and such invented this? Really, well tell me all about it. So just to see their the reward that comes with teaching outweighs everything else. Everything else.

Katie Olmsted 21:50
And our students need great teachers to feel that reward.

Tara Johnson 21:54
Yes, yes. Tara Johnson and Terry Johnson, a mother-daughter duo in education. Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives.

Terry Johnson 22:06
Thank you.

Tara Johnson 22:07
Thank you for having us. OEA's is awesome.

Katie Olmsted 22:13
Now, Terry Johnson mentioned in this episode that she considered coming out of retirement to substitute teach but decided against it. Next week, we're hearing from a teacher who came out of retirement to teach again full time because he saw the need in his school. Remember, new episodes of Education Matters drop every Thursday, and you can find them wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time, stay well.

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