The art of language

People may take their ability to communicate for granted. They use language every day without a second thought.

English professor Jodi Johnson looks beyond basic communication and implores her students to do the same.

“I especially like helping others understand the power of language to communicate what we feel and think, how it connects us with other human beings,” Johnson said. “I enjoy being able to give someone else the tools they need to express themselves more effectively, or to appreciate and enjoy works of literature. I feel like language is the thing that makes human beings unique and allows us to share our deepest experiences with each other in a way that unites us, and to be a part of that is a great honor.” 

Johnson has been teaching at Pierce since 1984 and has been a full-time faculty member since 1986. She said she fell into teaching unexpectedly, as her passion for writing helped her come out of her shell. 

“I always loved reading and writing, so I knew I was going to major in English from the time I was in high school,” Johnson said. “But I never planned to become a professor. In fact, I was always very shy and hated speaking in public, so I never imagined I would like teaching.” 

Stephanie Trejo, Johnson’s former student, appreciated the extra mile Johnson would go to make sure her students understood the material. 

“She did make the class enjoyable and easy to learn because we would do a lot of the class reading in class and she would thoroughly explain how we had to do our assignments, meaning that she would give us several examples of what was required and not just the directions,” Trejo said. 

Johnson has a high standard for her students, but Trejo said she appreciates it. 

“I honestly think she is a great professor,” Trejo said. “She is very nice, approachable, but also very strict when grading. I think that is great because she gives you all the tools and opportunities to be successful but will grade you based on the effort you put in.”

Johnson’s daughter Gillian Larson said her mother puts in the extra time to make sure she’s providing the best education.

“I think my mother is a great person and professor because she really cares about other people and does so much to help them,” Larson said. “I see her reading essays and making lectures and replying to emails all day and most of the night. She puts so much time into helping her students–and other people in her life too. She always is sincere and tries hard to do what is right and help people any way she can.” 

Johnson said her passion for learning and exploring new things goes beyond the classroom.

“I am also a very active outdoors person,” Johnson said. “I think most of my students know that I ride horses and competed in dressage and jumping events for many years, although I no longer have a horse I compete with. But I also love to cross-country and downhill ski, and waterski, and hike and go kayaking—any kind of outdoor adventure. I feel best when I am outside in the wilderness somewhere.” 

Johnson said diving into the unknown helps her expand her mind.

“I think we need to open ourselves up to new experiences and not be afraid to take chances and try new things,” Johnson said. “Even if they don’t go as well as we hoped they would, that is a learning experience too. You only get one life, so you have to be willing to embrace living it as fully as you can.”

Johnson said she is navigating through the transition to online as best as she can. 

“I always resisted any kind of online teaching,” Johnson said. “I love being in the classroom and interacting with students, and I’m not very adept with technology, so I just wanted to avoid that. But of course now I am grateful that the technology exists so that I can continue teaching and helping students, and I have been very surprised at how much I feel I am still able to connect with students.”

Johnson said she gets the best reactions out of her students from being in the classroom. 

“I miss seeing the reactions of students to something we are reading and seeing the light bulb go on in their head,” Johnson said. “I miss having more of a dialogue. I always learn as much from my students as they learn from me, and now the communication is almost exclusively one way. But I am glad we still have the opportunity to go on learning. Just a decade or two earlier, this would not have been possible.”

Larson said that Johnson believes people can always be successful no matter what life throws at them.

“The best advice she’s ever given me is not in words but just in the way she lives her life,” Larson said. “She has shown that the best way is to always follow your heart and do what makes you happy in life.”