Reminiscing about JJ

From her first trip to the principal’s office to her first selfie: 40+ years of JJ

“I remember once during my first few years of teaching, I was called down to the president’s office,” said English teacher Janet Johnson. “I didn’t know what it was for so I was kind of nervous. I went in and I sat down with him and he told me, ‘Your dress is inappropriate and unprofessional,’ and I was wearing wool knee-high stockings! He told me that I needed to start wearing hosiery.”

Today this kind of conversation seems out of place, but when Janet Johnson began teaching at Minnehaha back in 1972, it was not quite so uncommon.

Johnson, known by students as JJ, has been at Minnehaha for more than 40 years, and students and faculty alike seem to agree that she is a school icon. This year she will be leading the procession of faculty members for graduation since she is the highest in seniority among the faculty. It is not hard to find stories about Johnson; anyone walking down a hallway at Minnehaha is bound to have at least one or two memorable anecdotes about her.

While most people interact with Johnson in a classroom setting, a group of girls knows her on a more intimate level as their adviser.

“I love her so much,” said sophomore Megan Whitney, one of JJ’s advisees. “She’s creative, kind [and] funny, to say the least. Every time we have a session we call ‘What’s on your mind?’ where we get to open up to everyone about stuff that’s currently on our mind. JJ makes it really easy for us to talk to her about almost anything, and she gives us really good advice.”

Whitney also talked about how Johnson brings in a cake once a month for the girls, and how the girls always like to joke around with her as well.

“I remember once when we showed her how to take a selfie, and how to use the front-facing camera on her iPhone,” said Whitney laughing. “I think her mind was blown after that.”

When asked about her friend and colleague,  English teacher Robyn Westrem had plenty to say.

“Jan was the first person that I worked with when I was hired here,” said Westrem, recalling her first years teaching here at Minnehaha. “She helped me and shared the lessons with me. She has always been a very generous and positive colleague and has just always been a very kind person in regards to her students, and faculty too.”

Westrem also talked about how she has gone to Johnson from time to time when she has needed advice on how to handle a situation.

“She is one of the people that I’ve gone to when I needed to know how to say something in just the right way, and she always knows the right way to say it,” said Westrem.

As she reminisced about Johnson, she remembered a particular incident involving an important missing document.

“She mistakenly threw away some important form, something that couldn’t be reprinted,” said Westrem, “So she decided that she’d retrieve that piece of paper. I remember she came up and told me ‘I found the paper and I’ll tell you how.’ She ended up finding these latex gloves and going through the recycling to find that paper. And it wasn’t like her trash bin, but one of those huge janitorial bin, and she dug through the whole thing and actually found that paper.”

Even though she’s been teaching for most of her adult life and will be returning, Johnson has plans for when she retires sometime in the future.

“Now this may sound weird to some people,” Johnson said as she laughed, “But my husband and I want to publish a book about the history of pockets. We already have an outline created for the book! I’d also love to write a column for a magazine such as the Mpls/St. Paul magazine about everyday things such as Internet language and how it’s just one gigantic mixed metaphor.”

Some people may wonder why Johnson has stayed at Minnehaha for so long.

“People often ask me, ‘What’s it like teaching kids today? Are students lazier now?’ Absolutely not,” said Johnson. “‘Do students have less respect for adults than the used to?’ Absolutely not. All of those misconceptions I like to put the kibosh on.”

She also described her favorite part of working at Minnehaha.

“I often tell people that at my job I laugh every day,” said Johnson, “and also that I’m surprised every day, and I don’t know many people can say that about their jobs. And never in my 40 plus years at Minnehaha have I ever looked up at the clock and thought ‘Oh no, how much longer do I have to be here?’”

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