Susan Johnson, a veteran language-arts teacher at Cle Elum-Roslyn High School in Kittitas County, was named Washington state's teacher of...

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Susan Johnson, a veteran language-arts teacher at Cle Elum-Roslyn High School in Kittitas County, was named Washington state’s teacher of the year Wednesday.

The 17-year teaching veteran was chosen from among nine finalists. She will spend a year traveling around the state as an ambassador to teachers, while keeping up with work in the classroom.

Johnson also will represent Washington in the national competition, which was won by a Washington teacher two years ago.

The other finalists were:

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• Dave Gamon, a life-science teacher at Northwood Middle School in the Mead School District in Spokane County

• Katie Hebner, a music teacher and chorale instructor at Alki and Jefferson middle schools in the Vancouver School District

• Heather Byington, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Evergreen Elementary in the Shelton School District in Mason County

• David Young, a second- and third-grade teacher at Clear Creek Elementary School in the Central Kitsap School District in Silverdale

• Kimmie Read, a fourth-grade teacher at Zeiger Elementary in the Puyallup School District

• Toni Cuello, a kindergarten teacher at Emerson Elementary in the Pasco School District

• Ted Mack, a special-education teacher at Discover Elementary in the Moses Lake School District

• LaLani Pitts, a language-arts teacher at Mount Baker High School in the Mount Baker School District in Deming, Whatcom County.

Last year’s teacher of the year was Laura Jones, who teaches career and technical education at Pasco High School.

Finding their voices

Johnson was recognized for her ability to help high-school students find their voices in writing and making connections between literature and modern life, Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson said during a news conference at the Museum of Flight.

In his letter of recommendation for Johnson, Cle Elum-Roslyn Principal Boyd Keyser wrote, “We are a better staff and a better school because of Susan.”

Keyser wrote that he had a personal as well as professional appreciation for Johnson, who helped his daughter grow from a struggling writer to a college student studying to be an English teacher.

“I always knew as a child that I was attracted to teaching and learning,” said Johnson, the wife of a math teacher, mother of four grown children and grandmother of three.

She said she found her calling in 11th grade while examining “the human condition,” and that is what she focuses on in her classroom.

Johnson also is an adjunct professor at Central Washington University and co-director of the Central Washington Writing Project, which coaches teachers. She writes poetry about the natural world and relationships.

Sharing her wisdom

Johnson will spend 2009 traveling around the state, speaking to other teachers and sharing what she’s learned, but she doesn’t get a year off from teaching.

She advises teachers to build a personal connection to students and convince them their personal experiences matter.

“Once you start having that accumulated experience of seeing students find their voice … you know you can never stop,” Johnson said.

Her advice for developing writers: Write often, trust your voice, read other writers, share your writing and write about what you know.

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