Joan Johnson is retiring after teaching preschool in Freeland for 33 years. Photo by Patricia Guthrie /Whidbey News Group

Joan Johnson is retiring after teaching preschool in Freeland for 33 years. Photo by Patricia Guthrie /Whidbey News Group

After 33 years teaching tots from A to Z, longtime Freeland preschool teacher retiring

Joan Johnson with the ‘magical white hair’ taught two generations of South Whidbey families

In 1986, Joan Johnson wanted to get back in the classroom to the profession she loved. But with a large family of her own at home, returning to a full-time teaching job wasn’t practical.

So she created a school in Freeland where she could balance the roles of teacher, wife, mother — and director.

“I started a preschool at St. Augustine’s Church as the director and teacher,” Johnson said. “I wanted to go back to working at an elementary school, but I wasn’t ready. My husband came with four children and then I had two.”

The preschool program she developed for kids took root and thrived for more than 20 years at St. Augustine’s.

In 2008, it moved to Trinity Lutheran Church where Johnson has joyously taught another round of children their ABCs and 1,2,3s.

Ages range from 2 to 5 among the 55 children attending the private Trinity Preschool this year.

“She’s as exuberant as she was back when she taught me 30 years ago,” declared Olivia Batchelor, who now teaches alongside Johnson. “She’s amazing.”

After more than four decades in education, Johnson, 74, has decided to retire at the end of May. But that doesn’t mean she’s leaving the classroom behind.

“I’ll still volunteer here and in the classrooms of my grandchildren in Bellingham,” said Johnson. “Kids is what I do.”

The grandmother of 10 is known for her snowy white hair, quiet yet firm disposition and agility to pop down on the floor for story time or lead a rousing rendition of “head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.”

Maci, 4 years old, commented on one of those qualities.

“Teacher Joan has magical pretty, white hair,” she said.

Other pint-size classmates declared, “She is so good at coloring,” and “Teacher Joan is the best at reading books!”

Originally from Mississippi, Teacher Joan earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education.

Her career took her to southern cities and islands of many kinds. She’s taught in Atlanta, Memphis, Richmond, Va., and with Department of Defense schools at military stations overseas in the Philippines and Midway Island.

“I moved to Whidbey Island ‘temporarily’ 45 years ago with a Navy man,” Johnson said with a laugh.

She’s taught many different grade levels and many different subjects, including remedial reading and English as a Second Language.

“I kind of went down in grades until I got to preschool and stayed,” she said.

In 1986, Joan Johnson started a preschool at St. Augustine’s Church and moved the program to Trinity Lutheran Church in 2008. She’s taught hundreds and hundreds of children over 33 years, some of them the tots of former preschoolers.

In 1986, Joan Johnson started a preschool at St. Augustine’s Church and moved the program to Trinity Lutheran Church in 2008. She’s taught hundreds and hundreds of children over 33 years, some of them the tots of former preschoolers.

Joan Johnson is retiring after teaching preschool in Freeland for 33 years. In 1986, she started a preschool at St. Augustines Church the Woodsand moved the progam to Trininity Lutheran Church in 2008.

Joan Johnson is retiring after teaching preschool in Freeland for 33 years. In 1986, she started a preschool at St. Augustines Church the Woodsand moved the progam to Trininity Lutheran Church in 2008.

Johnson leads a session of “head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes” for one of three groups of children rotating through her preschool classroom.

Johnson leads a session of “head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes” for one of three groups of children rotating through her preschool classroom.

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