From Kenya lessons to Coppell classrooms

Johnson’s time in African schools provide “defining moments” in his life


Photo courtesy Lowell Johnson

Coppell High School AP Statistics teacher Lowell Johnson taught students in Kenya as a Peace Corps service. Johnson taught math and English in the school in order to help facilitate learning in a third world country. Photo courtesy Lowell Johnson

Sreeja Mudumby, Communications Manager

Coppell High School AP Statistics teacher Lowell Johnson spent two years teaching English and math to students in Kenya. After teaching in Kenya, Johnson taught for a year each in two schools; St. Monica Munyaka girls secondary school located near Naromury, Kenya, which had 120 students, and S.A Kyeni secondary school near Runyenjes, Kenya, which had 300 students. These schools were financially supported through tuitions and donations, not by the government. Johnson was paid less than $200 a month, equivalent to the salary of all teachers in Kenya. 

What were some of the best experiences you had in Kenya?

I had so many wonderful experiences. I climbed to the third highest peak of Mount Kenya with my students where we saw the sunrise and Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. For a while, I lived in a compound with several Kenyans of different tribes.  The only language we shared in common was Swahili.  That was when I really learned Swahili. I helped deliver babies at a local hospital. I learned what life was like for many people in the world. I never laughed so much nor cried so much in my life. I came back with memories that will live with me forever. But probably the best experience was getting to know the warm and generous Kenyans in my community.  

How were your students in Kenya different from your students at CHS?

In the classroom, Kenyan students are very quiet. Kenyan teachers often wrote out notes on the blackboard while the students quietly copied the notes. In my classroom, I want the students to be more vocal, active and to think independently. 

What is the biggest lesson you learned while in Kenya?

My experience in Kenya was a defining moment for me. It changed my perspective and influenced decisions I made later in life. After returning from Kenya, I decided I wanted to study economics. I wanted to know why some countries develop and others don’t. That led to my getting a Ph.D.[Rutgers University] in economics. It is also the reason that I returned to teaching after many years. Also, if I’m put in a new situation, I know that I can land on my feet.

Do you plan on returning to Kenya?

I’m not sure. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya from October 1985 to December 1987.  I returned to Kenya for short trips in 1995 and 2008. The trip in 2008 was to show Kenya to my children. I wanted them to see what life was like in Kenya. There are a lot of other places in the world I want to see.

How did your experience in Kenya influence your teaching at CHS? 

My experience in Kenya strongly influenced my decision to go back to teaching.  Prior to teaching at CHS, I had a very demanding and stressful job as the director of international taxes for a multinational company. I grew tired of the daily avalanche of email messages, I felt that I wasn’t learning anything new and wanted to be back in the classroom where I could help young people.

What advice would you give to people who want to serve in another country?

if you are interested in seeing the world, do it. And do it while you are young. It is a lot easier when you are not tied down with children, student loans and a mortgage.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher at CHS?

My favorite part about being a teacher at CHS is the students. Period. Teaching makes me feel that this is where I should be; that this is what I should be doing. I want to help young people learn statistics and become better humans. 

Coppell High School AP Statistics teacher Lowell Johnson taught students in Kenya as a Peace Corps service. Johnson climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with his students. Johnson taught math and English in the school in order to help the children in the third world country. Photo courtesy Lowell Johnson.

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