Volume 16 Issue 2
By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Janet Merriam and Joan Smith
“Most of the staff at our school thought we were one person who was very, very busy,” laughs Joan Smith.
Janet Merriam and Joan Smith are identical twins with identical careers. Both are K-6 special education teachers in Oak Grove School District in San Jose. And no, they don’t switch classes for fun — and never did as children while attending school in San Jose Unified School District, either.
Pose a question to Joan and Janet, and one speaks for both.
“We went into teaching because we love kids and always have,” says Joan, who is two minutes older and an RSP (Resource Specialist Program) teacher at Alex Anderson Elementary School.
“Kids are the best thing that God ever made, and we’re blessed to work with them every day,” says Janet, an RSP teacher at Del Roble Elementary School.
They decided to attend San Jose State University together, earning bachelor’s degrees in liberal studies, elementary education credentials and learning handicap credentials, and went on to earn certificates in CLAD (Cross-Cultural Language and Academic Development), RSP and Project Optimal, an online study program for students on the autism spectrum. Their teaching styles are nearly identical, with an emphasis on hands-on instruction geared to individual students and groups. They consult each other on an almost daily basis about challenges they face at school.
They also have the same hairstyle and the same glasses, and often wear the same clothing, which is coincidentally purchased on separate shopping expeditions, since they share the same taste. They finish each other’s sentences most of the time, and then they nod together in agreement. They live six blocks away from each other. The only difference they can think of is that Joan likes lima beans, and Janet thinks they are a “waste of space” in the garden.
Janet has been a teacher for 22 years and has one child. Joan, a mother of two, was a stay-at-home mom for several years and has been teaching for nine years. Ten years ago, at Frost Elementary School in San Jose, Joan was an instructional assistant in the class Janet was teaching.
“The kids figured it out right away, but it took the staff a little longer,” says Janet. “We could never get used to calling each other Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Merriam, so we just called each other Joan and Janet. We told the kids that we could do that, but they could not.”
The duo, both members of the Oak Grove Education Association, admit that colleagues are still surprised to learn that there are two of them teaching the same subject in the same district at the same grade levels with the same credentials. But they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We are best friends, and the fact that we are teaching the same subject is just icing on the cake,” says Joan. “We are truly lucky to have such a strong bond.”