In a school full of talented and exceptional professors, Cheryl Johnston stands out.
Johnston, Assistant Professor of English and Reading, is retiring at the end of the Winter 2017 semester.
Along with being a respected educator, Johnston is one of those professors who is admired by both students and colleagues.
“She’s very understanding and realistic, which I appreciate,” MCCC student Emma Muth says. “You can tell she’s genuinely happy and loves being a teacher.”
“Cheryl is a consummate professional,” says English Professor Lori Jo Couch. “She truly cares about her students.”
From an early age, Johnston knew she wanted to be a teacher.
Although she grew up in Willis, a small agricultural town near Ann Arbor, Johnston attended St. Mary’s Academy in downtown Monroe – which at the time was an all girl’s school.
“It was a long commute every day.” she says.
Though the trek to the little school on the corner of Elm and Telegraph was time consuming, it was during her years at St. Mary’s that the seed of her future career was planted.
“Good teachers inspire you to be a good teacher,” she says.
While Johnston admired many of her teachers, there was one in particular who instilled a passion for education.
“My first-grade teacher, Miss Frank, loved books and stressed the importance of being a good reader,” Johnston says. “She was a dynamic teacher who made everything more interesting.”
Johnson’s love of education did not stop at the classroom. Her parents were both her biggest inspiration and constant cheerleaders.
“My parents were readers,” she says. “I learned very early the importance of being a reading model.”
Though her parents had varied interests when it came to their choice of literature, she had no issue drawing inspiration from both.
“My mother was a reader of novels,” Johnston says. “When I would ask her what her book was about, she refrained from saying ‘You wouldn’t be interested’ or ‘You wouldn’t understand.’ She would tell me about what she was reading. She was the person who showed me that reading was worthwhile and pleasurable.”
Though her mother loved novels and stories, her father preferred the newspaper.
“My father taught me the importance of being educated on current affairs,” she says. “He used to keep clippings of articles he thought I would find interesting. Even into adulthood, he would regularly send me envelopes full of clippings.”
With a strong support system at home and teachers who nurtured her love of writing, reading, and the arts, Johnston excelled in the classroom.
After graduating high school, Johnston went to the University of Michigan and earned a Bachelor’s degree in English. She went on to receive her teaching credentials.
Her first job was as an instructor of adult education classes at night.
“I really liked that job because the students were so highly motivated,” Johnston says. “Working with them is where I learned to be a good teacher.”
After a few years teaching adults, Johnston returned to her alma mater and taught upper level high school classes.
While teaching at SMCC, Johnston became an adjunct professor at MCCC – a role she would fill for 15 years.
Johnston was eventually offered a full-time position, and spent the next 18 years being one of MCCC’s top professor’s.
What sets Johnston apart is her quest to bring about new and interesting ways to help encourage curiosity and learning.
“Cheryl was always concerned with students first,” retired professor William McCloskey says. “She rarely did anything without first wondering how it would benefit students.”
There are many programs that would not exist if it were it not for Johnston. The success of the Children’s Literature class is a part of her substantial legacy.
“I am proud of the growth and enrollment of Children’s Literature,” Johnston says. “The class always fills up and we rarely have anyone drop out.”
She particularly enjoys working with tomorrow’s educators, often seeing herself in many of her Children’s Literature students.
“With the status of teachers being diminished, I think it’s important that we remember the value of educators,” she says. “It’s a wonderfully rewarding career.”
Her love of her Children’s Literature class does not go unnoticed by her students.
“She’s made me think more. My skills for evaluating literature have greatly improved,” Muth says.
Muth also appreciates Johnston’s style of teaching.
“She’s not stagnant or afraid of doing something different. Every semester she tries to change things up with different books, activities, and experiences,” she says. “This speaks to the passion she has.”
Though Children’s Literature has a special place in Johnston’s heart, on campus she is probably best known for her constant support of One Book, One Community (OBOC).
While describing Johnston’s substantial legacy, McCloskey made special mention of OBOC.
“She helped organize trips to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, the Art museums in Detroit and Toledo, and ArtPrize in Grand Rapids,” McCloskey says. “Of course, she was also the driving force behind One Book, One Community.”
“One Book, One Community has taken up the past eleven years,” Johnston says. “I’ve enjoyed watching it grow.”
Because of the grassroots nature of OBOC, the program does not receive any large grants. Therefore, Johnston has to depend on her colleagues for help.
“I’ve been able to work with people in other divisions,” Johnston says. “Everyone who is on the committee contributes. They are really invested in the success of One Book, One Community.”
Even though she is retiring, Johnston said that she will be back to help chair the event. She believes that OBOC is filling an obvious need.
“One Book, One Community adds value to the education students receive here at MCCC,” Johnston says.
When asked what she is going to miss most, apart from her students of course, Johnston’s blue eyes lit up.
“My colleagues,” she says without hesitation. “Some were here when I was an adjunct. I’m truly going to miss the collegiality.”
Johnston made special mention of Couch and Professor Carrie Nartker as being two of her closest friends.
When speaking to Couch, it’s obvious that the admiration is mutual.
“She introduced me and other professors and students to Art Prize in Grand Rapids, and I will forever be grateful,” Couch says. “From travelling to Europe to just talking in our offices, I have so many wonderful memories of Cheryl. She will be missed.”
As far as plans for retirement, Johnston can sum it up with one word – travelling.
“I plan on travelling to my favorite city, London, the day after Mother’s Day with my husband,” Johnston says. “Professor Dillon has never been, so we’re taking him there and showing him around.”
After London, Johnston will be heading to Italy.
“In September my husband and I are going on a food and wine tour in Italy,” Johnston says. “Art and food, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
When asked what she looks forward to the most, Johnston reiterated her love of travelling.
“I’m excited to be able to travel whenever I want,” Johnston says. “My granddaughter lives in Arizona and I’m looking forward to visiting her more. If I see a cheap airfare, I can just grab it and go.”
While Johnston has earned her retirement and the adventures that await her, there is no doubt her absence will be felt.
William McCloskey, who retired last fall, summed it up perfectly.
“I realize that a number of professors have retired recently. Cheryl is one that will be sorely missed,” McCloskey says. “The college will not be the same without her.”