On a sunny afternoon this spring, Lucas Johnson ’15 recalled a similar day three years before, when he returned from tutoring three students at Fox Point Elementary School as part of a first-year seminar. His students were working on math problems when one of them, who had been struggling with some of the newer concepts, made a particularly astute observation.
“He essentially jumped three steps ahead of where I was going,” Johnson said. “Seeing that concept click for him” was unlike anything Johnson had experienced in any other professional setting, he said. “I just remember that being the best walk home ever … just basking in the rare Providence spring weather and feeling like I had helped someone learn something.”
Johnson, an education concentrator and aspiring high school teacher from Brooklyn, has been interested in the field since before coming to Brown. He will return in just over a month to pursue an MAT. He credits Brown’s Department of Education with broadening and challenging his perspectives on public education and better familiarizing him with the craft of teaching.
Johnson’s talk — entitled “School Spirit” — will focus on how his experiences at Brown have shaped his outlook on education’s value.
In addition to involving himself in extracurricular programs in teaching, including Breakthrough Providence, Johnson said he got hands-on teaching experience through his coursework. This semester, he and another student taught a poetry course at Hope High School through a class taught by Rhode Island Poet Laureate Rick Benjamin, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies and public humanities. Johnson noted that it was the second class he had taken under the instruction of a poet laureate as an education concentrator. “Where else could you do something like that?” he said with a laugh.
In preparation for the end of the course, “my partner and I were up until three in the morning the night before getting their poetry anthologies together … finding a poem for each of them that we thought they’d like,” he said. “It was almost hard to leave that day just because the energy was so warm and positive and collaborative.”
“I get very embarrassingly emotional about that stuff,” he said.
Johnson, who said he has never been a valedictorian or thought of himself as much of a public speaker, said he was honored by his selection as a Commencement orator, especially given his interest in a teaching career.
“It de-centers some traditional notions of what success means after college,” he said. “As a future … teacher in a public high school, I question whether my career aspirations would ever put me in the position to be invited to speak at a commencement at most schools,” he added, though he noted that at his sister’s graduation from Penn, the speaker was Geoffrey Canada, an internationally recognized figure in education.
“To show that the University endorses career choices beyond the highly profitable and the high-profile … means a lot to maintaining the narrative that Brown prides itself on,” he said.