D.J. Johnson agrees with the philosophy of magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes: “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.”
It is this attitude, along with a bit of showmanship, that has made Johnson, Industrial Health and Safety Professor at Rend Lake College, the perfect selection for the 2005 RLC Foundation Faculty Excellence Award.
Johnson will be honored at the college’s annual Board/Faculty/Staff Dinner, to be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 6, at Rend Lake Resort.
Johnson began employment with Rend Lake College on July 2, 1979, in the rapidly expanding Mining Technology Department. As the coal industry peaked and then declined over the years, Johnson created a niche by expanding his safety training throughout the state, and has since become renowned in the mining and quarry industries for his dynamic presentations.
These days, Johnson travels the length and breadth of the state, carrying his classroom with him, to do eight-hour sessions at different locations each day. He provides mandatory safety training to the heavy equipment, mining and quarry industries throughout the state, delivering high-energy, multimedia presentations to his audiences.
“As a testament to his excellence, he has returned each year to conduct training for some of the same clients for 20 years or more. There are few educators who can say that their students ask them to return as many times as D.J.,” said RLC officials.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of ignorance is “the state of being uninformed.” Johnson’s educational philosophy – to lessen ignorance through learning – may sound simple, but it is a rather bold and risky undertaking, he said.
Delivering information which is unknown and sometimes unwanted by an individual or group can often be met with doubt and skepticism, Johnson said.
“A sign of success would be a ‘confrontational’ debate,” Johnson said. “If a teacher can stimulate and facilitate such ‘confrontational’ debates, learning will occur.”
Quoting philosopher and writer Will Durant, Johnson said, “Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance. In 27 years as a teacher, I have never left a class without having learned something. When the teacher learns something, he or she then has a little more knowledge to share with others.”
Johnson admits that his philosophy may not be suited to every teacher. Author Gail Godwin once said, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.”
“If a teacher intends to cause learning through debate, a spirited presentation will be required. While preparation is always important, a bit of showmanship is also necessary,” Johnson said.
“When using this approach to learning, be resigned to the fact that some students will not like the idea of being challenged to look at their own ignorance. But even though they might not like it, learning will occur,” Johnson concluded.
During his tenure, Johnson has taught health and safety to more than 50,000 students. He currently teaches for about 120 mining companies and sites and has worked closely with the Office of Mines and Minerals and the Mine Safety and Health Administration in implementing the State Grants Program in Illinois. This program is used to support health and safety training courses and programs designed to reduce mining accidents, injuries and illnesses.
Johnson serves as president of the U.S. Mine Rescue Association, which is an advocate for improved mine rescue training; as an executive board member of the Illinois Mining Institute, and as a member of the Executive Committee of the Holmes Safety Association, a national organization of safety professionals.
“D.J. Johnson has served as unofficial mentor to me and many other new teachers,” said one long-time colleague. “Through his teaching and life experiences, D.J. has proved to be an enormous resource. He always goes out of his way to share new material or a good idea.”
RLC Foundation “Faculty Excellence Award” Winners
2004 – Patricia Bennett-Minor, Associate Degree Nursing
2003 – Diane Metzger, Mathematics
2002 – Larry Sidwell, Business
2001 – Janet Miller, Business/Computers
2000 – Sandra Cox, Mathematics
1999 – Ro Hoar, Developmental Studies
1998 – Linda Denton, Science
1997 – Carolyn Stewart, Psychology
1996 – John Howard Fisher, Chemistry
1995 – Dr. Sue Santoro Tomlin, Sociology
1994 – Michael P. Mullen, English
1993 – Joseph Henry Rust, Speech
1992 – William Dill, Mining/Advanced Technology
1991 – Jim Waugh, Health/Physical Education
1990 – David Scott, Agriculture
1989 – Wayne Arnold, Health/Physical Education
1988 – Dr. John Homan Jr., English
1987 – Sarah Capps, Art
1986 – Sandra VanCleve, Allied Health
1985 – Dr. Barbara Luchsinger, English
1984 – Shirley Yeargin, Allied Health
1983 – Gary Wade, Mining Technology
1982 – Dr. Eugene Estes, Science
1981 – Vincent Cain, History/Political Science
1980 – Eleanor Hall, Sociology