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Gaston County teacher ends school year on a high note

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May was a month to remember for Herbert Johnson.

First he was named Star Teacher at Bessemer City High School, where he teaches music and chorus. Then he got word that his music program at the school had won a $5,500 grant from the Grammy Foundation – one of only 27 high schools nationally to win the award from among more than 900 applicants.

Johnson, 31, said he was overwhelmed, especially by the honor of being named Star Teacher.

“Out of all the awards I have received in my life,” he said, “it was the most special to me.”

Each year at Gaston County high schools, class valedictorians are asked to name the teacher who had the biggest impact on them. Trey Good nominated Johnson, calling him “the perfect role model.”

“I have grown in music and character over the two years that I have known Mr. Johnson,” Good wrote in the essay he submitted along with the nomination.

As for the Grammy Foundation award, Johnson said his music program at Bessemer City High was judged based on quality and need for funding. He said he would use the money to establish a piano and keyboard lab so that students can take lessons at school.

Below are excerpts from a recent Qcitymetro.com interview with Johnson, who grew up in Sumter, S.C., and moved to the Charlotte area to attend Winthrop University:

On his teaching philosophy:

“I think I measure my success based on my students’ success. If they don’t achieve then I don’t achieve, and I don’t like to not achieve. So I push them. I set the standard for excellence, and there’s no other option.”

On his love for music:

“My family, they were very musical. Everybody played an instrument or sang or did something through the church. Then we took it into the school system. We all participated in music programs. My father and my brothers and my mother…we were all doing band and choir.”

On why music is important in schools:

“I believe academics do come first, but many people feel, and research shows, that kids who study music are less likely to get in trouble. It helps kids focus. It exercises your left and right brain and makes you a well-rounded individual. I can tell from my own testimony watching the students that I deal with. Those who participate in music have been your better students, and it carries on out of the classroom.”

On recent budget cuts to high school music programs:

“There are programs I know right now that are being cut in North and South Carolina. I personally have friends who have been teaching music who have lost their jobs, and they had been teaching for years.”

On his dream job:

“My dream job is to do something in the area of production – agency work, artist management. I like putting on programs and watching the artists enjoy something I had a hand in planning…I’m kind of a writer-producer. I enjoy making it happen more so than performing myself.”

The next big thing:

“I do a gospel workshop every year that I have produced for my hometown. It’s basically to promote music ministries in that area and expose them to artists and producers that they normally would not have access to. I bring in people who are connected to the industry. We have lessons on vocal training, musicians’ classes, things of that sort. Then we end the weekend conference with a concert. This is our fourth or fifth year, and it’s been growing each year.”

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Editor's Note: Do you know someone who has received special recognition. Email editor@qcitymetro.com.

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October 2, 2014
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