Newman University alumna Johanna Forshee ‘69 recently retired from a 50-year career in education while being honored as an inductee into the Kansas Teachers’ Hall of Fame class of 2021.
Forshee said teaching at the primary and secondary levels wasn’t originally at the top of her radar. But just one week before receiving her degree in music from Sacred Heart College, now known as Newman University, she made a decision to further her education because of one simple conversation.
During her last week of school, while waiting in line for lunch, she sparked a conversation with Sister Thomasine Stoecklein, telling her how much she admired student teachers coming back with fun stories of their experience in the classroom.
That’s when Sister Thomasine told her about Project Teach, a program through the university for people who had a college degree that wasn’t in education but were wanting to become teachers. The program was something the sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ were passionate about.
Thanks to paid tuition and books, Forshee was able to step into the world of teaching by returning to Sacred Heart College for one more year and becoming certified.
She began teaching at the beginning of the 1970 academic year and never looked back.
“I never thought I would be a middle school teacher,” she said. “I wanted to teach musicology and pedagogy at the collegiate level. But instead, this is what I did for 50 years and I’ve never been sorry.”
She began her teaching career at St. Mark’s Elementary, taught seventh and eighth grade after that and then eventually became principal at St. Mark’s School.
After a short hiatus to care for her mother, Forshee returned as a math intervention specialist, working for both middle school and high school teachers. She worked first at Jardine Middle School before moving to Curtis Middle School, both in the Wichita public school district. She retired from Curtis Middle School on May 26.
Her tenure at Curtis Middle School was filled with success and progress.
“We were the lowest ranking math department in the state of Kansas, but by 2014, we won the distinguished title and our math scores went from bottom to the top third,” said Forshee.
Learning about her induction into the Kansas Teachers’ Hall of Fame, Forshee said, was a happy and shocking surprise.
“I found out about the induction in late March,” she said. “I was shocked — there are so many people to choose from so I just asked, ‘Why me?’ My first thought is everyone is a great candidate. We all shine brightly and we are all someone’s favorite.
“I’ve uncovered other stars in our universe, including student teachers and administration. I can credit all my creative writing skills to Kansas Newman. I took quite a few English classes and I loved reading books and writing essays.”
The Hall of Fame induction isn’t the first honor she’s received. In 1976, Forshee was inducted into Phi Delta Kappan, she was a Danforth Fellow in 1987 and a Who’s Who in Educators in 1994.
Her time in the education world taught her that making a difference in young people’s lives was God’s plan for her.
“I have past students that are now teachers and that is an amazing feeling. Every time one of my students graduated from high school that was a success. My task was to work with the lowest-performing students. I wanted to see those students go on to high school and graduate.”
She spoke of a special memory, a student who didn’t have much confidence in his mathematical skills. Forshee said helping him succeed was an honor. That student ended up being one of the individuals who nominated her for the Hall of Fame.
In his letter, he said he was forever thankful and he was not sure where he would have ended up without her. He added that her compassion and patience changed the lives of hundreds of students.
In her retirement, Forshee said she will enjoy traveling and motorcycle road trips with her husband. But she isn’t done teaching completely. She plans on substituting whenever she can with the intention of earning money to give back to her community through the church.
“Every day is special in teaching — I wouldn’t have stayed for 50 years if it wasn’t. The biggest regret I have is that I don’t have another 50 years to give. Kids are my passion and teaching is my mission.”