The great outdoors: Ennis teacher Wyatt Johnson is a man for all seasons

By Patty Hullett
For the Daily Light

Wyatt Johnson, born and raised in Ennis, is a true sportsman in every sense of the word. Not only does he spend the majority of his days coaching tennis on the courts at Ennis ISD Tennis Center, but he also instructs in the classroom (and outside) as the Outdoor Education teacher at Ennis Junior High School.

Coach Wyatt Johnson on the outdoor tennis courts.

Johnson says, “My class is pretty awesome, and this is my sixth year in this position. I am an outside kind of guy, and I love the outdoors. In fact, if you want to see me in a serious state of depression, just make me stay inside somewhere for a while. Being cooped up just kills my soul.”

Johnson grew up on his family’s ranch in the Trinity River bottom, between the small towns of Telico and Bristol. “I’m a 6th generation on multiple family sides. My kin folks originally came to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia," he says, adding, “Hunting and fishing and anything outdoors have always been my life. It is the Johnson’s family style of living.”

He graduated from Ennis High School in 2000 and played all four years on the Lions tennis team under Head Coach Keith Howard. As it turns out, Johnson now serves under Howard as EHS Varsity Assistant Coach and heads up the Junior Varsity program.

He says, “People know me in school and college for the tennis that I played, but I am the only one in my family to pursue sports as another outdoor hobby. It just kind of stuck with me, and I am so lucky to get to do both now as a job – which really is not a job if you love what you do everyday. The freedom and feeling that I get now being out and about and just teaching, coaching, or leading the example of outdoor life, is just as fulfilling as catching that biggest fish, or harvesting that animal I killed for the sport of it.”

'Outdoors Tomorrow Foundation' and Johnson's teaching position

Outdoors Tomorrow Foundation (OTF) began in 1981, with a mission statement of: “to teach outdoor education and to promote and fund conservation of wildlife worldwide.”

In 1998, with a model provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, OTF pioneered the first public educational curriculum for secondary schools in Texas called Outdoor Trails. In 2007, a complete curriculum rewrite helped merit accreditation by the Texas Education Association for the newly named Outdoor Adventures (OA) program. Today, OTF has established this educational program in more than 600 K-12 public and private schools across 39 states. OTF provides curriculum and equipment grants to schools who have adopted the OA program.

Johnson explains how he got the job he loves so much: “I was teaching a Leadership class at the Junior High, and the (outdoors) position came available. I inquired about it, and with my background, it was a easy fit for me and the school. All I needed was some background checks and certification from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department."

Next, he said he had outdoor foundation classes and completed certification classes to learn how the curriculum was to be taught from National Archery in the Schools Program, as well as meeting with the local game warden. Class topics included Dutch oven cooking, fishing and angler education, boater and hunter education certifications, bow fishing, shooting and more. 

A lucky student catches a fish during the outdoor class.

Johnson's teaching experience led him to a new venture: writing textbook material. He explains, “Recently, I was approached by the OTF organization and asked to show them some of the things we were doing in my class. The one skill that attracted most of their attention was that of shooting slingshots. This was something that I ‘added’ to my class as part of a nostalgic type of activity that is often overlooked and forgotten these days. However, it was something that I did with my brother many days on the ranch. We always had slingshots growing up, and it was a very skilled, but fun activity. We always enjoyed while hunting with them.”

Students learn how to properly use slingshots during the outdoors class.

Johnson says OTF and partners were so surprised about his teaching this skill in class that they wanted to add that to the curriculum, which is now covered in 600+ schools and in 39 states and counting. "Basically, I was lucky enough to be honored and trusted by this foundation to write (from beginning to end) how to shoot slingshots or catapults," he said. "It took about a month of writing and rewriting and editing on paper – to get everything down. From the history to modern-day usage of the slingshot, to their parts, to styles of purchasing, to the different types of ammo, to safety while shooting, and even to target-making, I was finally able to express my expertise by writing down the information needed to successfully complete that lesson in textbook verbiage form.”

The goals and learning in Outdoor Education class

Johnson is proud to teach his students and to be able to certify them for their hunter safety cards and their boater safety cards, which give them the ability to hunt on their own and to operate vessels on public waters if they wish, or if they are allowed by guardians.

Johnson explains that, along with the slingshot, students shoot NASP archery-style programs and pneumatic styles of rifles, with the main focus being on safety of firearms, handling, and shooting. Students also learn how to do some basic camping exercises, as well as cooking, first aid, survival units, taxidermy and animal processing. Probably the students’ favorite lesson of the year is when their teacher covers “fishing” – and the kids actually go to the on-campus pond to fish during class time. Things that may seem trivial can be useful and important to being in the outdoors – such as tying knots for camping, learning different ways of fishing, fire-starting and fire safety.

According to Johnson, “Basically anything you can do in the outdoors, we try to touch on in class and try to do some kind of activity that is hands-on so that each student can gain experience. 

Students learn hands-on about the hydro dipping process, a water and paint process for different items such as animals' skulls, fish, etc.

"There are no forced opinions on how these students should view any of these activities. But instead, the goal is to give the student the knowledge of each exercise, and then let them decide how they feel about that activity, and make their own opinions based on what they have experienced. I just want to make sure that I supply them with the proper knowledge to to help them with future decisions that the public makes when it comes to the outdoors – like laws, taxes, park buildings, gun laws, hunting / fishing licenses, etc. After being a part of my class, my hope is that these students will have a greater

understanding of outdoor life and the various choices and activities that they find they may enjoy, and hopefully they will use the information they gained in class later on in their lives.”

Johnson and his wife, Melissa, have been married for 15 years. Their family includes two children, Paige (11) and Luke (6), and Mac the cat.

Johnson graduated from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in 2004, with his Bachelor's Degree in Business Management, and a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, along with a minor in Liberal Arts. He went on to graduate from Lamar University Online with his Masters of Education in Administration in 2014.

“This is my 15th year working for Ennis ISD,” says Johnson. “Wow, does time fly by! It’s been great fun, and I would not change much about my experience – except maybe if I could get the time to slow down some – because sometimes I think it just goes way too fast to really enjoy and reflect on how awesome my life has been in Ennis and working for the ISD.”