Laura Johns speaks to members of the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club last week.

J.D. Pooley | Sentinel-Tribune

Laura Johns sneaks in math lessons when her students least expect it.

“They don’t even realize it, and then I feel like I pulled one over on them,” she said.

Johns will tell them after the fact that they just did math in the real world.

“I get a lot of eye rolls when I do that, but then they laugh.”

Johns is an eighth-grade math teacher at the Bowling Green Middle School. She was the second Inspirational Educator honored by the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club.

“It’s truly an honor. It feels a little overwhelming,” she said at Thursday’s club meeting.

Choking up, Johns said her students brought her flowers that morning.

She said she first considered becoming a teacher in junior high and then learned her grandmother had been a math teacher in the Philippines.

“Math is a strength of mine,” Johns said.

She was the 1994 math champion in eighth grade and has kept the trophy to go with it.

“I show that to my students and I tell them you’re being taught be a math champion.”

Johns remembered being called out in eighth grade for her bad behavior, and she said she can relate to her students.

“You’ll be fine,” she tells her students. “You’re making bad choices right now. I want to say, ‘look at me,’ but I don’t.”

She took on leadership roles in high school and was a member of Key Club, National Honor Society and student council.

“By the time I was a senior, I was pretty set on being a teacher.”

Johns’ undergraduate degree is in math education from Ohio University. She later earned a master’s degree with the intent to be a high school teacher.

She has taught for 19 years, with the last 18 at Bowling Green City Schools.

“Eighth graders present challenges but they can be so much fun,” Johns said. “This has really been the best I could have ever asked for.”

Her biggest challenge is trying to build a bridge between the curriculum she wants to teach and all the needs the students have.

Johns listed her top-10 rewards for teaching eighth grade. Number 10 was the middle school staff.

“I don’t think any other staff could have sold me quite as much as the middle school did when I first joined,” she said.

They share a common goal, which is student success, she said.

Another reward is seeing students’ successes.

She enjoys teaching and letting students try something on their own. Watching them understand a lesson in real time is fun, Johns said.

Number seven is keeping connections with the kids.

This year alone, she has had three former students show her their top grades in math. Another student this year invited Johns to her quinceañera.

“Being someone they come back to and want to share things with is really cool,” she said. “When they buy into me, then they buy into the math.”

Number six on the list is her students missing her when she’s absent.

“It’s kind of wonderful when you come back and they say, ‘never leave us again.’”

Next is sharing her non-teaching life in both lessons and conversations.

“They need to know me,” she said, adding that she tells her students stories about her own children.

Number four is her team of teachers. Johns is one of the teachers for Team Endeavor, and “they have your back no matter what.”

Seeing students become math teachers is reward number three, followed by getting them to hate math a little less.

Number one is catching students in moments of unfiltered kindness and tolerance.

“All of these things really make teaching middle school math rewarding,” Johns said. “To be recognized by my peers and then be selected as well is really an honor.”

“I’m so proud of her for receiving this honor. It’s obvious why she was chosen,” said middle school Principal Eric Radabaugh. “In our building, she’s passionate, she’s fun, she’s dedicated, and she brings joy to our staff and to the students.”

The Kiwanis Club this week will recognize Melissa Hemminger, who is in her 10th year teaching kindergarten and first grade at Crim Elementary.