Beloved longtime Rancho Santa Fe teacher Harriet Joslyn to retire in June


By Karen Billing

In her 30-year career in education, R. Roger Rowe fourth grade teacher Harriet Joslyn has tried to lead her classrooms by keeping an ideology from Thomas Jefferson in mind: “An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head the second.”

She has always tried to cultivate a child of heart as well as brains. “I often thought our job as teachers was to let our light lead children but also to warm them.” said Joslyn. “I think that’s what teachers need to be, to love and nurture children along the way…build their hearts.”

Joslyn will retire this June after 20 years at Rowe where she hopes she has taught, cared for and made a positive difference in the lives of her students. She said it was a hard decision to retire and up until three weeks ago she had trouble even talking about it. “I don’t know what I will do with myself,” Joslyn said of retirement. “ I love coming to school every day and I thrive on planning and preparation for my class. It’s difficult for me to imagine not doing because it’s so much a part of me.”

It was always Joslyn’s dream to become a teacher, as she loved school and considers herself a lifelong learner. A Maryland native, Joslyn did her undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Maryland. While there, she met a “dashing young marine” named Bill who she eventually married and his career led her all over the country and the world. She lived and taught in Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, Hawaii and in Japan.

“I was really lucky to have those 10 years of experience when I came to Rancho Santa Fe,” Joslyn said. “I just had so many wonderful experiences with teachers from all walks of life, I learned so much from everyone. They really become a part of you and who you are as a teacher.”

She remembers being hired by Dr. Roger Rowe and how he joked that she couldn’t keep a job because her resume listed so many different places and schools. “It’s changed a lot (in 20 years),” Joslyn said of the R. Roger Rowe School. “But the things that haven’t changed are the magnificent teachers and staff. This school definitely maintains a high level of professional teachers; caring and loving adults that always put children first.” She said the teachers and staff at Rowe have become “milestone friends” that she will always cherish.

At Rowe, Joslyn has taught every grade from second through sixth — she spent nine years teaching fifth grade and for the last seven years has taught fourth grade. Joslyn also played a big role in the school’s drama department, directing two to three plays a year with Maureen Cassarino. Fifth grade was Joslyn’s favorite to teach because she loves American history. A big history buff, she developed the Colonial Fair and took fifth grade classes on trips to Williamsburg and Washington, D.C.

“That was one of the highlights of my career for sure,” Joslyn said of those Williamsburg/D.C. trips. “It was magical, to see the kids’ faces when they actually stood in the Smithsonian and saw the Star Spangled Banner, seeing the holes in the flag.” Joslyn said she would have tears streaming down her face as she told the story of Francis Scott Key and the battle of Fort McHenry which inspired him to write the poem that became the U.S. national anthem.

A lot of Joslyn’s deep love of history she inherited from her father who was a Civil War buff and took her family around to see all of the battlefields when she was younger.

“A big responsibility for us as Americans is to learn about our American history,” Joslyn said. The way that Joslyn teaches now is different than the way she did 30 years ago — she said learning new ways to do things and incorporating technology into the curriculum has kept her on her toes and young at heart.

Some things are the same (she still reads “The BFG” by Roald Dahl and does all the giant voices”), but she has also been excited by the new, such as the iPad. “Sometimes I do long to go back to the simpler ways. There are times when it seems kids have so much exposure to media that we’ve lost some of the important things about interpersonal relationships, talking and being with each other,” said Joslyn who has tried to combat that with group work, book club discussions and lunches with students with no technology, just a special time to talk.

Of all that free retirement time that lies ahead, Joslyn said it’s a “big open book out there” and she’s not quite sure what she will do. She and her husband will have more time to visit their three children and eight grandchildren who are spread out from Park City, Utah to Philadelphia and even Hong Kong. She might find time to work in her garden and as she loves to write, Joslyn has toyed with the idea of writing a book.

An avid traveler, Joslyn also roams the world with “The Grandmas,” a group of eight close friends. She is the youngest grandma but they all call her “Mama” and she gets a thrill doing all of the planning for their trips down to what clothing they should wear. Of course, she does a thorough historical study of all of their destinations. Their next trip is planned for September, a trip to Italy which will hopefully help Joslyn take her mind off the fact that she won’t be preparing for another exciting school year. “I am really going to miss that,” Joslyn said of that magical end of summer, looking ahead to a new year with new supplies and a whole new classroom of kids to instruct and warm. “Once I get over that little hump I think I’ll be OK.”

A community retirement party is being planned for on June 5 in the Performing Arts Center. Anyone who would like to share a story about Harriet Joslyn, would like to help with planning or who has any questions, e-mail Stacey Halboth at