When the Jahnsen children were younger, shopping with their mother often turned into a difficult situation. They were jealous of the students who would run up and give their mother a hug. In later years former students would accompany that hug by crying, “Oh, Mrs. Jahnsen! You were my music teacher back in grade school. I still remember my line from our musical program.”
Now the Jahnsen’s are older and each is getting a taste of what it’s like to be recognized by students. All three have followed their parents, Joan and Jim Jahnsen, into education. All but one of their spouses is a teacher as well.
This is Joan’s 39th year of teaching music. Thirty-two of those years were with the Chehalis School District, but her roots are in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, a town 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. “I got into music as a very little girl,” she said.
Joan started clarinet lessons in fourth grade, then added the alto saxophone in middle school so she could play in the jazz band. In high school, she learned to play the oboe and the bassoon so she could play for musicals in the pit orchestra. Along the way, she took piano lessons and organ lessons. “Music just became my life,” Joan said.
When it came time to choose a career, music was the natural avenue. After graduating from Seton Hill College in Greensburg, she started looking for a job in music education. “Teaching positions in the late ‘70s were very competitive,” Joan said. “There were 85 to 100 applicants for every job.” So Joan went west – to Onalaska. “That’s about as far west as you can go,” she said.
Joan packed up her ’68 Chevy Nova with everything she needed and headed for the West coast with her mother. “My dad said my mom had to go with me for the drive, some 3,000 miles away,” Joan said. “It was my dream. It was what I really wanted to do.”
She got a house on Carlisle Avenue just a few blocks from the school and settled into teaching K through 12th grades. “That was an adjustment for me, getting used to living in a really small town where everyone knows you and when your car is home and when it is not,” Joan said. “But I really enjoyed it there.”
Joan drove into Chehalis to find a church to attend. A year later, Jim Jahnsen, a new teacher from Spokane, drove from Boistfort where he taught fifth and sixth grades, looking for the same thing. They met at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Jackson Highway. Six years later, they married.
They decided to go on an adventure and see if they could get a job in Alaska, but it didn’t work out as planned. They came back to Chehalis where they substituted and took short-term positions until Joan was hired full-time in Chehalis and Jim got a job with North River School District in Brooklyn, Washington. He had to travel over logging roads to get there. “It was miserable,” Joan said.
Eventually, Jim got a job teaching special education in Winlock. Four years ago, Joan convinced him to apply for a job in the Chehalis District. Now he teaches special education at Green Hill. “I had been trying to get him to come to Chehalis for years,” Joan said, “but he liked it at Winlock and didn’t see any reason to move.” Now they have the same vacation schedule.
As Joan gets closer to retirement, she finds she’s still having too much fun to quit. She teaches kindergarten through second grade and really enjoys the little ones because they are so enthusiastic and excited about life in general. “It’s so easy to get them excited about music,” Joan said. “We have such a good time singing and playing the rhythm instruments and getting up and dancing and moving. That’s my goal, to make them enjoy music to the point where it’s going to be something they will enjoy for the rest of their lives.”
When asked if she intentionally influenced her children to go into education, Joan said, “I didn’t think so, but it must be in the genes.”
Her oldest son, Jay, empathically told his parents that he never, ever would be a teacher. While in college, he was asked to help tutor a group of middle school students who were having a hard time passing a state test. His group all passed with flying colors.
Jay decided that maybe being a math teacher was his calling. He had to go back to school and get his master’s degree in teaching because he didn’t have a teaching certificate. After a year of intensive work, he got his degree and now teaches math at River Ridge High School in the North Thurston District. He is still involved in music and plays his trombone in a brass quintet in Olympia. His wife, Margaret, is in the medical field.
Cori Jo, the middle child, was always a “mommy’s girl.” She suffered greatly from separation anxiety when she was in grade school. That all seemed to change when she graduated from college. Cori Jo signed up for the Peace Corps and spent two years teaching native children in Micronesia. “That was quite an experience for her,” Joan said.
When she got back, Cori Jo took time off for a cross country train trip, stopping to visit friends along the way. She was gone for several months, then she went to Akiak, Alaska to teach. That’s where she met her husband, Jordan Duncan, who is also a teacher. Now they both teach in the Chehalis School District. He teaches science at Chehalis Middle School and she teaches fourth grade at Smith Elementary. They have an 18-month-old son, Lincoln.
Katie, the youngest, is the closest to following in her mother’s path. She teaches music for kindergarten through sixth grades at Napavine Elementary. Her husband, Mike Giuliani teaches orchestra to grades 5 through 12 in the Chehalis School District.
“Music is a big part of my life,” Joan said. “I guess that’s the main reason why I became a teacher – because I just want to share that joy with everyone else. I’ll know when it’s time to retire because it won’t be fun anymore.”