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OPINION: Neil K. Johnson, a giant in our educational community, leaves legacy



For 44 years, Neil Johnson mentored, taught, and advocated for Carbon and Alpine School District students. With Johnson’s passing, a light in the educational community was extinguished. Neil was the consummate teacher and will leave a legacy of concern and caring among the thousands of students he taught.

I remember knowing Neil when we were colleagues at Mountain Ridge Junior High. He was one of two male teachers in the English department. One day, when I visited his classroom, he sat at his desk, looking frustrated and tired. This was not his usual demeanor. He was always genial, warm, and energetic. “I can’t figure out how to get these kids going,” he said. He handed me his curriculum manual and shook his head. Johnson was always innovative and creative in his approach to teaching. The students loved him for that. He would take any subject, making it enjoyable and exciting even for junior high-age students. 

He rubbed his hands together and said, “I do not like this new curriculum. It makes good teachers mediocre and so-so teachers also mediocre.” We both chuckled at his comment. The state had just approved the new Common Core curriculum, and teachers were mandated to use it because of the statewide testing program to ensure teachers were held accountable for what they were teaching.

Johnson’s forte’ was taking whatever he was assigned to teach and making it relevant and important to his students. His ingenuity and creativity made him a favorite teacher among the thousands he taught in his long career. In 2010, he was chosen “Utah English Teacher of the Year.” Johnson had found unique and fun ways to teach grammar, writing, and rhetoric. 

After his retirement, he was determined to write a resource manual for teachers. The book was published shortly before he became ill. His effort to share experiences from the classroom became a driving force in publishing the book. I remember reading through the book, feeling excited for prospective teachers to see the varied techniques Johnson had perfected in his classroom. He was always ready and willing to share his ideas with others.

Johnson also wrote plays and other pamphlets for those in or out of the teaching profession. He will be missed by many. He leaves a legacy of kindness, gentleness, and caring in the teaching community and his Lehi neighborhood. I will miss his genuine love for kids and his eagerness to spread goodness throughout our community.

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