A 40-year veteran of the teaching profession and of the North Polk School District will bring her years as an educator to a halt soon. Linda Janson, the high school art teacher, is retiring from her position at this school year’s end.
It’s funny that a woman who admits quite readily that she isn’t an early morning fan has taught for all these years. In retirement, she said with a laugh, “I plan never to schedule anything before 9 a.m. I have hated 6 a.m. every day of teaching.” Her love of what she was doing outweighed the daily start time. “Teaching art was the only job I ever really wanted to do and be good at. I loved almost every day of the 40 years and would like to thank every student I had, because they taught me.”
What she’s enjoyed most through the years, she said, is getting better at teaching, whether that was through continued classes, workshops or seminars or through listening to her students, both past and present. New teachers, she said, need to remember not to ask their kids to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves, and to make learning fun, rigorous and relevant, while always providing a “why” about what they’re asking students to do and learn. “Kids are like dogs, they listen to what you say and watch what you do, especially when you think they aren’t.” But listen to them, she advises. “They have great ideas,” and if there’s a problem, “involve their parents … as soon as possible… (then) call again when it gets better.”
Looking back, Janson recalls that art teaching jobs were scarce after she graduated from college. She wanted something not far from Des Moines and her husband knew a North Polk teacher’s husband who suggested she apply for an opening they had. She did and got the job to teach art. She always taught high school, and had some middle school classes intermixed for a time.
“While trying to get hired as a teacher, I also was a florist and assistant manager at a wholesale florist company; and a bartender at a country club,” she said. Other responsibilities she had included working at her church teaching Bible school and Sunday school and serving on the church council. And, she did a stint as a housekeeper at a nursing home in West Des Moines and a hostess at a restaurant.
The restaurant and bartending experience played into another job that Janson has had and will still have in retirement for awhile. She’s co-owner of a catering business in Des Moines called, The Girl’s Catering. “We do custom menus, hire our own staff, shop, prep, cook, serve and supply bartending services for all types of events,” she said, noting they’ve handled groups of eight all the way up to 1,500. It’s been a nights and weekend job, but now, she said, it will be easier, as she’ll have regular days to do the work too.
Janson has never really been “not busy.” As a teacher at North Polk High School she’s taken on a lot of other responsibilities that come along with the job. She was yearbook sponsor for 13 years; National Art Honor Society sponsor; a mentor for first-year teachers for five years; the School-To-Work coordinator; an At-Risk Team member; a TLC mentor teacher for two years; and held countless class sponsor duties, including nine years as senior sponsor off and on, as well as being an assistant on musicals, plays and proms.
The challenges of teacher through the years, she said, has been the scope of responsibilities and expectations that have been added on for the classroom teacher, and dealing with the changing family structures for students. “Family structures are less traditional and there seems to be a lot more put on kids at earlier ages. Teaching has changed to helping students sort and manage information, rather than giving information and providing information,” she said. The change with information can be fun, she noted, but also difficult.
In retirement, Janson will have more time to spend with family and she’ll hear plenty about teaching. She has two married children, a son Chris and a daughter, Erin. Both live just five minutes away. “My daughter teaches ELL in Des Moines Schools, and my son is married to a music teacher in the Des Moines Schools. My daughter has two little boys, 5 and 1, and my son has a little boy, 3, and another baby due in September. I love being a grandma, and I will be able to help out when the boys have to be home sick. It’s hard to find sitters when we all work and teach.”
What other things are on Janson’s retirement “to do” list? “I have books to read on lists, lists of movies to watch and vacations to schedule that are not over only two weeks of the year.”