Based in Kara, Togo, English Language Fellow Howard Johnson has become a celebrated member of his community by sharing the benefits of health, wellness, and happiness through his interactive English language teaching methods. In addition to leading daily English language learning activities at the American Corner and training teachers with the Togolese English Teachers Organization (TETO), Johnson wakes up every morning at 5:30 AM to teach a community CrossFit class at a local gym. Read more to learn how Johnson has increased English language capacity and built meaningful relationships by connecting with people through the cultural exchange of language, music, food, fitness, and dance.
Howard Johnson’s Routine in Togo
If Johnson is not awakened by the bellowing sound of a guineafowl hanging over his window, he begins his day with a rooster’s crow at dawn. In fact, he gets an early start to teach a community CrossFit class prior to leading English language learning activities at the American Corner. Johnson explains that the CrossFit class is “vital to keeping me fit as the cuisine of Togo is rich in carbs and delicious fried foods like maize, millet, cassava, and yam.” Johnson’s passion for fitness and health, however, are not limited to his CrossFit class. At the American Corner, he uses English to help keep the minds and bodies of his students healthy and active. In fact, he starts many of his classes by playing Beyonce’s “Move Your Body” song to get his students to get up, active, and ready to learn.
Johnson’s primary duties involve teaching two to three classes daily at the American Corner with students and occasionally providing training to their professors. In between his activities at the American Corner, he provides English classes to professors and staff members throughout the week at a nearby university. Occasionally, Johnson assists the Togolese English Teachers Organization (TETO) with planning and delivering teacher training workshops. He explains that these sessions provide opportunities to connect with and support teachers in remote areas. “Too often, these teachers are not trained and/or looking for additional training that would help them help their students improve their skills in the classroom”, Johnson explains. As a result, he has led workshops and discussions on motivation, critical teaching and lesson planning. In addition, Johnson hosts a weekly Sunday radio program!
Following the day’s activities, Johnson either heads to the market, a colleague’s house for a meal, or to relax at his home. On the weekends when he is not leading teacher training workshops outside the city, Johnson leads a community jogging group.“Every Saturday morning, we start jogging from a central point to the Congress Palace. There, we exercise, do yoga or play sports…You may think I should be resting at this point, but you are mistaken—I’m out and about at friends’ houses or dancing or traveling around the town,” Johnson shares.
Fostering Intercultural Exchange
Johnson describes Togolese people as being “magnanimous.” He reflects back on his experiences and describes how he was greeted by friendly neighbors the day he arrived in his village. “They carried with them a local dish along with the local beer of the region. We sat for about an hour talking about whatever came to mind, and I shared with them why I was here and a little about the USA,” he remembers. Johnson has also grown accustomed to asking about a person’s family and life each time he meets someone new or attends an event. He notes that he’s learned a lot about the do’s and don’ts of Togolese culture from his welcoming neighbors and colleagues at the American Corner.
Working at the American Corner provides Johnson with a platform to also share American culture with students, colleagues and community members. “ I enjoy planning fitness sessions with the students, music and game nights, dancing, and meditation. The students really love it!”
Johnson’s Favorite Experiences in Togo
On his birthday, Johnson was humbled by a surprise celebration organized by his students and colleagues at the American Corner. “There were singers, dancers, paintings, cake, and drinks!” he remembers happily. Another favorite experience occurred when one of his CrossFit students shared before-and-after pictures since joining his class. “I was stunned at the results. She thanked me and challenged me to do some burpees. Clearly, she beat me that day!” he recalls. These experiences illustrate how much the community in Togo has grown to value and appreciate Johnson’s numerous contributions.
Leaving a Lasting Impact
As a Fellow, Johnson has been embedded into may projects, events, programs, and activities. One experience, in particular, demonstrates how he has made a lasting impact. With support from the American Corner, Johnson helped create Togo’s very first English language based web-series titled “StoryTellers: The Ten Chronicles. Life at University.” The show takes a look at different aspects of a student’s life and provides a platform for students to express themselves and discuss their daily lives in English. “We are looking forward to shooting season two in June, 2019!” says Johnson.
After completing his fellowship in Togo, Johnson will be relocating to Mexico City, where he will work with a grassroots organization called “The Saloma Foundation.” His position will focus on teaching English and training teachers in marginalized communities where support is scarce.“I hold the Saloma family dear to my heart because I lived with them a number of years ago and worked on a slew of projects with them throughout the Tlaxcala and Mexico City area,” he states. Johnson is grateful for his experience as an English Language Fellow and believes that it has prepared him to make an even larger impact as a leader in the TESOL field. He explains, “My fellowship has equipped me with so much more than just living in another country experiencing the local culture and working alongside some pretty amazing people, but it has given me the tools to carry out projects like teacher trainings.”
Howard Johnson is an award-winning ESL and EFL teacher who has taught in five countries. He has been labeled “Most Sought after Teacher” by both his students and colleagues due to his beamish attitude and passion for teaching and developing material for his classrooms. Not only has Johnson taught ESL for eight years, but he has also been a professional development presenter and English teacher trainer for four years. His trainings have included: Curriculum Differentiation, Phonetics, English Clubs, Gifted Education, Classroom Management and Motivation, Critical Thinking, Social Media, and American Literature and Culture.
Howard Johnson received his B.A. in Liberal Studies- Elementary Education from Alliant International University, Mexico City, and a Master of Education- Curriculum and Instruction and Graduate Certificate of TESOL from Cleveland State University. Johnson speaks Spanish and French and is currently delving into learning Arabic and Portuguese.