An AP teacher’s journey to fulfilling teaching passion


Caitlin Tate

Ms. Lawrence uses the skills she learned as a lawyer to teach her English students how to analyze an argument.

From dancer, to lawyer, to author and finally English and AP Seminar teacher, Joanna Lawrence contradicts the idea that a person should follow one strict career path to be successful. Despite knowing she wanted to be a high school teacher since childhood, she had many jobs before achieving her dream.

Originally from the Cayman Islands, she first came to the United States to study journalism at The University of Missouri but then quickly switched her major to English and theatre. After receiving her degree, she became a professional dancer at American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York after practicing it for 24 years in the Cayman Islands.

Although dance is drastically different from teaching, Lawrence feels like it prepared her for her current job today.

“All of those opportunities helped me get the education that I needed. I feel like I’m pretty disciplined in what I do—that all came from theatre and dance,” Lawrence said.

After dancing, she received a masters in law at Mizzou, working for the Mason and Calder Law Firm in London before returning to the Cayman Islands to do policy work.

While staying in the Cayman Islands in 2004, she survived Hurricane Ivan, a Category 5 hurricane that caused a tremendous amount of damage. Although her home was unharmed, her hometown was not so lucky. To emotionally process the event, she wrote and published the book Paradise, Interrupted that gave an account of the hurricane.

“My children were 6 or 7 at the time of the hurricane, and I just felt like it was important that they would remember it,” Lawrence said. ”Historically, it was the closest immediate account of what happened.”

She went back to the United States to get her masters when a teaching opportunity presented itself.

“It was on my birthday, and an opportunity came up for me to interview for a teaching position. It seems like all the things I wanted to do in my life have been to prepare me to be a teacher,” Lawrence said. “I feel like destiny has brought me here.”

She also has advice for young people when choosing their life path.

“My advice to people who have a passion is to follow that passion,” Lawrence said. “That will motivate you to go further in life than anything else.”