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AHS Teacher of the Year: Janet Pennington

AHS Teacher of the Year: Janet Pennington
Posted on 01/29/2019
In her application for Tennessee Teacher of the Year, Arlington High School science teacher Janet Pennington made no mention of her life before teaching. But keep reading, it’s impressive.

Teaching is actually Pennington’s fifth career. She started off as a genetics technician at the University of Tennessee analyzing chromosomes in pregnant women. This research helped her team detect and understand chromosomal defects.

Pennington’s next job took her to St. Jude for pharmacology research. There, her mission was to find which drugs targeted particular cancers best. “Of all things, I eventually ended up at Texas Tech doing onion research,” she laughed. That research, albeit smelly, was a noble cause that tried finding onion crossbreeds that were both drought and insect resistant.

After Texas Tech, Pennington began what some might consider one of the most challenging jobs: being a stay at home mom. And she really went all in, serving as PTA President at multiple schools and the legislative chair on the state PTA board.

So what led this former genetics-cancer-onion researcher and power mom to become a teacher? It was none other than a long-term substitution gig at Arlington High. She stepped in as an Honors Biology and Anatomy and Physiology teacher while the permanent teacher was on maternity leave.

“Students during that time would ask me, ‘Ms. P, why don’t you become a regular teacher,’” Pennington recalled.

“I would answer back, “Because you’ll only like me as a sub. If I become a regular teacher, I’ll be part of the system,’” she laughed. She eventually took the advice of her students and officially became a full-time teacher in 2007.

“I feel like teaching is a career that I was always intended to do,” she said. “I wanted to be a doctor at some point, but I honestly feel that my calling is to teach people who will eventually become doctors.”

Over the course of her 12-year teaching career, Pennington has immersed herself in the classroom, school leadership positions and the ACS community. From being a Team Facilitator and Learning Coach to serving on several sport booster clubs, Pennington has redefined what it means to start over mid-career.

And there’s no question in her mind that she made the right move. “Now, I can see the results from my work,” she explained. “My research from St. Jude and others was so fulfilling, but I didn’t see the fruition of my research until long after leaving those jobs. With teaching, I get a raw product in August, and I send a finished package in May. It’s a great experience.”