For most of her childhood, Johanna Paraiso wanted to become a lawyer and advocate for the rights of children.
"I also had grand visions of being a photojournalist so I could tell the stories of kids who needed the world's help," recalled Paraiso, who was born in New York City and raised in Eagle Rock, California.
She later earned a bachelor's degree in English from UC Berkeley and a master's in education from Stanford.
While attending college, she changed the focus of her future career.
"Having my first two sons as a college student really impacted my actual career choice," said Paraiso, who went into kids' media coming out of college, and ended up managing a program that allowed her to pilot teach graphic design to middle school students.
Her own young children, along with the middle school students, "were really my motivation to become a teacher. I ended up applying to a graduate credential program, was accepted, and my soul has been happy ever since."
This year marks her 12th as an English teacher at Fremont High School in the Oakland Unified School District, where she was named the 2015-2016 Oakland Teacher of the Year. Before her current position, she taught for two years at Boston Community Leadership Academy.
A self-proclaimed "bona fide tech junkie," she enjoys using technology to innovate her students' learning. She also loves people and stories about people — and thus helping students tell their own stories, which she believes is fundamental to her practice as an English teacher.
"It is my hope that my students become 'digi-literatis' and use online tools to become stronger readers, to conduct research, to connect with communities beyond our classroom, and to engage civilly through blogging, virtual discussions, and community-focused projects," she said.
She is proud that these efforts take place in her classroom every day.
"Teaching through a framework of literary theories also lets my students hone their literary theory lenses and better enables them to make sense of and evaluate the myriad print and digital texts to which they are exposed on a daily basis," she said.
"Helping my students make sense of the world is very rewarding because they help me make sense of it, too," Paraiso added. "After 14 years in the classroom, I am proud that I am better able to prepare my high-schoolers to be college-, career- and community-ready."
One of the greatest challenges she faced as an educator was embracing "the messiness" that came with taking risks in her teaching practice.
"I am proud to be as courageous as I ask my students to be every day as learners," she said. "This has prompted me to work more closely with teachers to help them innovate in their own practice, and this was a challenge to overcome because teachers can be the scariest students."
Her ultimate goal is to ensure that all of her students have a fair shot at communicating to the world how amazing they are.
"I am currently exploring the world of computer science and have piloted teaching coding this year," she said. "It is my goal that students expand their idea of what it means to be literate in this world and try learning to code. Communication looks different now, and as one who is learning to speak binary, I know that what will always make me happy is constantly learning."
Looking back on her vocation and motherhood, she believes teaching and parenting are the world's best jobs.
"And for me they go hand in hand," Paraiso said. "Being a mom and an educator makes me appreciate humanity more."