John Arthur, a full-time teacher at Meadowlark Elementary and adjunct professor at Westminster College, is more than a teacher. He’s a mentor who says he commits himself to the wellbeing of his students.
Arthur was recognized as Utah’s 2021 Teacher of the Year Oct.1 by the Salt Lake City School District.
“Mr. Arthur was presented with a check for $10,000 and will compete with his state fellow teachers of the year in a national competition,” the school district said in a statement.
Arthur has been a teacher at Meadowlark Elementary, a Title I school in Salt Lake City, for eight years. He said he wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else.
To qualify as Title I, a school’s neighborhood is typically a low-income community and has a high percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.
A Title I status means the school gets more federal funding to reduce class sizes and pay for programs to help students overcome achievement gaps present in a community with fewer resources.
“The beautiful thing about where I teach is it may be Title I and that carries a certain stigma,” Arthur said. “But it’s a community with so much heart and culture and passion and the most amazing families and children.”
As a teacher who cares for his students on a personal level — beyond academics — Arthur said he makes regular home visits. He said he is always amazed by the respect both his students and their families have toward him.
“My Latino students’ parents are always giving me tamales and they always want to feed me,” Arthur said. “Then I go to the African families and they try to feed me sambusa and other food.”
Arthur joked he believes he’s the best-fed teacher in the business.
Although most people think of poverty when they hear ‘Title I’ Arthur said he thinks of flavor and culture.
This year has brought social justice movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ to the forefront, and as a teacher, Arthur said he’s been lucky to have conversations with his diverse class about social justice.
“I teach my students explicitly about various social justice causes and champions who have come before,” Arthur said. “So that they can learn from the playbook passed down by those champions to address the social causes that affect them personally.”
Arthur said it’s been gratifying to see some of his former students leading Black Lives Matter marches and taking the mic to make big statements.
“It’s not like I take credit for it,” Arthur said. “I’m just very proud that I’m part of my students’ journey toward being champions for themselves.”
Jamie Laramie, a Westminster education student who is mentored by Arthur, said working with him has been a privilege.
“Every day he gives me meaningful advice that is going to help me be a strong teacher,” Laramie said. “He’s been an incredible mentor.”
During her second week working with Arthur, Laramie said they were planning on how to execute a science lesson when Arthur suggested she go ahead and teach it as her first lesson.
“He was confident in my ability to understand the content and teach it to the students,” Laramie said. “He believed in me, and I was able to take that and run with it.”
Laramie said that Arthurs’ students are at the front and center of his teaching philosophy — noting he goes the extra mile to make sure his students are taught equitably in academics and beyond.
Arthur said that on a practical level, he hopes his students know that despite what challenges life throws at them, they can always count on and reach out to him.
“I want them to know they’ve got a lifeline, they’ve got a responsible adult looking out for them,” Arthur said. “As for qualities they take forward in life I hope they remember that nothing we do matters if it isn’t in service to others.”