Ask Utah’s Teacher of the Year: John Arthur
by Kiana Avlon (’19, MACL ’21)
Westminster alum John Arthur (MAT, MEd. ’13) was recently named Utah’s 2021 Teacher of the Year—as well as the 2021 Teacher of the Year for the Salt Lake City School District. John is a sixth grade teacher at Meadowlark Elementary School and teaches in Westminster’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. His work focuses on creating a more equitable educational system, and he serves on the State School Board’s advisory committee on equity of educational services for students. We talked to John about his approach to teaching and how Westminster helped play a role in shaping it.
How did the MAT program prepare you for your teaching career?
“I initially chose the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Westminster because it was the fastest track into the classroom. However, once I began my coursework, I realized I had sooooo much to learn before I would be ready to teach a classroom full of kids. That’s why I added three more semesters and the master of education in K-6 special education to my plan. In earning these degrees at Westminster, I learned how to put kids first, teaching to the whole child and centering our work together around their needs and interests. I also learned the importance of engaging families and community members as partners in educating our kids both academically and in terms of their social/emotional wellbeing. Most importantly, I left Westminster with a close-knit network of colleagues and professors that I rely on to this day for emotional and professional support.”
Can you describe how graduate school at Westminster helped you earn the 2021 Utah
Teacher of the Year award?
“I am a product of my environment, and I would not be the 2021 Utah Teacher of the Year if I didn’t teach at Meadowlark Elementary or complete my teacher preparation at Westminster College. Student-centered learning and culturally relevant practices are what I’m best known for as a teacher, and these are the same instructional hallmarks that are deeply embedded in every course and project in the graduate school at Westminster.”
How did you manage the transition to online learning during the pandemic?
“When our schools closed last spring and we transitioned to online learning, it was like we were abandoning ship and frantically loading our kids into lifeboats on a stormy sea. We survived, but no one would argue that it went well. This fall, however, was an entirely different story. Teachers in the Salt Lake City School District were given paid opportunities to plan for online instruction over the summer and engage in professional development on Canvas, Zoom, and Kagan strategies to make our instruction engaging and effective. We used the first two weeks of school to onboard students and families, distributing devices and instructional materials to all our kids. Now, a few months in, I can honestly say that my class is learning, we’re having fun, and my attendance has never been better!”
What was your favorite course in the MAT program?
“My favorite course in the MAT program was Social Studies Methods because the instructional strategies we learned were so engaging and my field placement at Edison Elementary is where I found my love for teaching in Title I schools on the west side of Salt Lake.”
What was the most memorable experience you had in graduate school?
“Traveling in Mexico for eight days with my cohort, where I found that best practices in teaching are universal and learned how the decisions we make here in the United States affect the education of kids in neighboring countries.”
Can you describe your semester student teaching?
“Because I earned a master of arts in teaching and a master of education, I did my student teaching in two different schools and settings. First, I completed 10 weeks in a typical fourth grade classroom, and then I did six weeks in a self-contained autism unit for third–sixth grade students. My experiences student teaching reaffirmed for me that all children can learn, teaching is the most hilarious job in the whole wide world, and schools must be made to fit the needs of students and not the other way around.”
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster College’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.