The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The road from Rhode Island

English teacher wins 2024 First Year Teacher of the Year
Debbie Campbell
Burgjohann was awarded First Year Teacher of the Year, having moved from her home in Rhode Island to the state of Texas just two weeks before the start of the 2023 academic school year.

On a normal Monday afternoon, English ESL and College Prep teacher Julie Burgjohann stands with her back to the class as she annotates an excerpt from the novel “The Glass Castle” on the whiteboard for her fifth period class.

She’s trying to engage her students, but when she turns around, she’s confused.

She sees Dean of Instruction Debbie Campbell, Assistant Principal Rachel Burgan, Assistant Principal Lawrence Garnett and Principal Michael Niggli with a sign, standing in her room.

“I just saw a lot of administrators standing in my room even though nothing was going wrong,” Burgjohann said. “[But] I saw flowers, and I was like alright, then this must be good.”

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It was that Monday, March 4 that Burgjohann found out she was Bellaire’s 2024 First Year Teacher of the Year.

“I’m new to Texas, Bellaire and teaching,” Burgjohann said.

Burgjohann was born and raised in Rhode Island and moved to Texas just two weeks before the start of the school year. She attended Salve Regina University, where she double majored in Secondary Education and English Literature with a minor in English Communications.

After being a student teacher for half a year in Rhode Island, Burgjohann moved to Texas for her first very-own classroom. Here, she loves it.

“Houston has been a very welcoming city,” Burgjohann said. “I feel like there’s so many people who are not from here that it’s not weird to be a transplant of some kind.”

But of course, there’s always home.

“I love Rhode Island,” Burgjohann said. “It’s beautiful. I will always miss it. You pretty much can’t go anywhere without running into someone you know. And I will never not miss the beaches.”

Burgjohann’s entire family lives in Rhode Island, including her mother, a preschool teacher assistant.

“I remember being younger and trying to force my younger brothers to let me read to them and try to teach them, so signs were there at an early age,” Burgjohann said.

Even before she knew she wanted to be a teacher, she knew her career had to be something with English.

“Almost [everyone] can connect to English,” Burgjohann said. “It’s a lifelong skill regardless of one’s path.”

The transition to Bellaire was an “easy” one. Beyond the community the school itself supports, Burgjohann said the teacher support system has made moving to a new school a smooth transition.

“There’s a very friendly culture, and the students have been great and super respectful,” Burgjohann said. “[The teachers] are so supportive, so knowledgeable and so so talented. I never could have won teacher of the year without the guidance of my ninth grade team.”

But, graduating with a class of 300 in her high school, Coventry High School, the biggest in Rhode Island, Bellaire is a new environment to work with.

“[Bellaire] is the biggest high school I’ve ever been to,” Burgjohann said. “The magnitude of it is huge and still an adjustment for me.”

English teacher Morgan Graham said Burgjohann was a wonderful asset to the ninth grade team.

“She is extremely, extremely hardworking,” Graham said. “She’s very dedicated. She’s passionate. She’s intelligent. And I think as a first year teacher, it has been absolutely amazing just seeing the transformation and her growth.”

English teacher Julie Burgjohann annotates a novel “The Glass Castle” with her fifth period class. Burgjohann teaches college prep English and academic ESL to ninth grade students. (Photo by Ada Arya)

ESL freshman student Hanyue Ding said Burgjohann was her favorite teacher, always willing to help and give support. Ding found herself struggling with English at the beginning of the year, but Burgjohann assisted her in tutorials, gave extra help at Cardinal Hour and guided her through homework assignments.

“She’s nice to everyone,” Ding said. “She really knows how to stand in other [people’s] positions and think about their situation. It’s hard to think of how she can understand your problems and your difficulties so well.”

Burgjohann believes in motivating students to be participants in their education. Her philosophy is not to teach at students, but instead for them to gradually take ownership of their own education and learning as she guides them through the process.

“My favorite part about teaching is seeing growth, seeing students who struggled to do something now succeeding, because I know that’s a confidence builder for them,” Burgjohann said. “There aren’t a lot of professions where you have the opportunity to influence and help guide as many people at the same time.”

She tries to hold her students to high expectations, knowing that when they enter her room, they will read, write and learn for every minute of her class.

“Just as I expect them not to waste my time, I would never waste their time,” Burgjohann said. “They’re here to learn and that’s what we’re going to do.”

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    Claire BApr 27, 2024 at 11:22 pm

    Such a sweet story, Ada! 🙂