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.