English made fun: How one prof is helping students apply classic literature to their lives

By Erika Gill, Staff Writer –

What does one have in common with a mythical hero that lived over a thousand years

ago? How can one relate to a biblical story that is so convoluted and lacks the logistics we rely

on today? Professor Michael Johnson manages to answer all these questions and more in his

courses and he even manages to make English seem…well…fun.

“The personal connection to learning, understanding, discovering new ideas has to be

personal for me- part of that is seeing people’s faces when they have that I get it moment!”

Johnson explains.

There are no dull blackboard worksheets or generic PowerPoints one has to sit through,

there is only interactive and engaging lectures that are free-flowing and all inclusive. Johnson’s

main objective is to make sure students walk away with a sense of clarity and enlightenment, not

only in reference to the stories and poetry read, but also within one’s self.

“He has a very fun and outgoing personality, so he brings the class to life by making it

entertaining and relevant to our lives.” Shayne Miller, a current student of his, voices.

What makes English so daunting for a lot of students is the reading covered in the class

often fails to interest students because of the “What does this have to do with me?” concept

being unclear to them. Johnson’s animated and thought-provoking lectures brings this issue to

the forefront and makes it the star of the course.

“I like the topic of conversation. He gets us all involved. He teaches things in a way I

understand.” Baleigh Tharp, who has taken a couple of Johnson’s classes, said.

The exuberant laughter coming from the classroom could probably be heard all across the

halls as Johnson recounts the stories that have shaped all of western literature today in a

humorous and comprehensible way.

Johnson’s unique approach to teaching has a lot to do with his diverse background and

liberal ways of thinking.

“I feel I am constantly mining odd and unrelated areas of information and then trying to

synthesize them to look at things from a different perspective.” He said.

In a lot of class environments there is either a right or wrong answer and that is how it is.

What makes this so tragic is that this way of thinking much of the time repels students and makes

them shy away from even beginning to analyze a story or poem that was written by some old,

dead person who can’t come back to life and tell the world what they meant by this or that

cryptic quote. In Johnson’s courses, he urges students to say what they think, and create theories,

and have a voice.

“I do believe that regardless of profession or program of study, students need to read

more and think more.  Think harder.  Think more critically.” He said.

Students are made to feel as if their opinion is just as important and just as profound as

anyone else’s and that whatever point they want to make or share with the world is valued.

Johnson’s most used comment when a student makes a rather eccentric argument in class instead

of jumping down their throat or scoffing at them, he asks a rather simple, “Why?” and perches

on the desk, coffee in hand, interested in a fresh and original perspective.

“I would hope every single student can leave my classroom and say, I learned something

vital about myself. And that is the foundation of every kind of learning we can engage in.”

Johnson says.

For those who are considering taking any of Johnson’s courses in the future, the main

thing required is a voice and the courage to use it. If you always remember to come to class with

these things in tow, you will most definitely leave his class a more knowledgeable and cultivated



Featured Image: English instructor Mike Johnson urges students in his English classes to express their own voice. He says students need to “think harder and think more critically.” – Photo by Erika Gill.

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