Janet Johnson: One last goodbye
Janet Johnson taught her first class at Minnehaha Academy in the fall of 1972, and while years have passed (42 of them) and classes have come and gone, Johnson has remained a bright and inspirational pillar of the faculty. Many will miss her, but she will remember all those who passed through her class.
“Several times a year, it will be after school, I’m at my desk, and unannounced, unexpectedly, an alumna or alumnus will open the door and say, ‘You’re still here.’ And in a way, for me, that’s what my career has meant. ‘You’re still here.’ For them it represents continuity in a world that is so shaky.”
One of the people for whom Johnson has been a constant is her next-door room member and fellow English teacher, Robyn Westrem. “I know Jan well as a colleague,” said Westrem. “But I don’t know, until she’s happily retired, I don’t know what I’ll be missing.”
And it’s not just friendship or a constant presence that will be missed, but skills and talents that have proven so helpful over the years that some teachers, like Katherine Myers, don’t know what they will do without her.
“She is a masterful lesson plan-maker,” said Myers. “Every lesson is thorough with its objectives and the questions and answers that she’s anticipating. So i know I have reaped the benefits of modeling lessons after how she’s created them… I should dig up her lesson plans somewhere, but they’re just so thorough. ‘Here’s how we’ll start, here’s the question I will ask.’ That’s like an art, and I don’t do that. I think about it; I think I should do it like JJ, but I don’t.”
Johnson is not only a skilled lesson planner, but also an avid lover of early American literature. “It’s an area of the curriculum that’s easy to get lost when AP tests are focused more on the skills,” said Westrem, “and I think English classes all over the United States don’t have the luxury of really digging in deep to a lot of the type of reading that Mrs. Johnson is really good at. She loves Emily Dickinson, for example. I know students can experience some of that, but Jan knows enough to really say some interesting and in-depth things about the poetry as a whole.” And with all of these skills that Johnson is known for, she can be serious about topics that warrant the attention that she can devote to them. She doesn’t let things get too serious, though.
“In terms of my teaching style,” said Johnson, “I have always had, what I think other educators would call a looser classroom climate. I have never been known as a strict teacher who runs a strict classroom.”
But besides not being strict, she will be missed for her humor as well. “I think students and faculty alike enjoy her witty and charming sense of humor,” said Myers, as just the thought of some of Johnson’s jokes made her chuckle.
Johnson’s time at Minnehaha has been marked by a meticulousness that would cause Swiss watchmakers to marvel and a lightness and overall good-naturedness that would stir up strong emotions in the most stoic of characters, and the institution that she has served for so long will not let her go without one last goodbye.