More Soul

It was a perfect February afternoon. We had just had an awesome day in my 4th grade classroom. Awesome and hectic!  But, let’s be honest, with 20 boys and 7 girls, every day is a hectic day. I was standing in the back, surveying our room, when there was a light rap on my door. I turned to see one of my little 4th graders - all grown up. Not only was she all grown up, but she had been substitute teaching right down the hall.  Thrilled to see her and wishing I could hug her, I exclaimed, “Taylor!  I am so happy to see you! "

She shyly took a step through the door, exactly like she used to when she was little, and said, “I had to come to see you, Ms. Boomsma. I wanted to tell you… I am going to school to be a teacher.” Hearing those words brought tears to my eyes, and it took all of my might to refrain from hugging her at that moment.

After listening to me gush about what a wonderful teacher she would be and how proud I was of her, she smiled behind her mask, I swear I could see it, and looked around the classroom.  “Ms. Boomsma, your room still feels like home.” She paused, looking around as she stepped forward.  “I always loved our room,” she continued. It was easy to see she was reliving those days. “I especially loved our projects!”  She stopped and quickly asked, “Do you still have your students address envelopes for Valentine’s Day, and then have the kids mail them?” I nodded that we did. Her eyes smiled, and she laughed to herself. And then she asked, “Ms. Boomsma, when I teach, do you think it would be okay if I had my kids do that, too?”

“Of course, Taylor!  That would be wonderful!” I answered.

She thanked me, smiling again behind her mask, looking very pleased. We visited for a little while longer before she had to go. After exchanging goodbyes, and of course an 'I Love You', she walked to the door. But before she left, Taylor turned to say one more thing.“Thank you, again, for sharing the Valentine’s Day project. Every time we do this in my room . . . I will think of you.”

Little did Taylor know that every time my students do that project, I think of Mrs. Ransom, my 1st grade teacher. I remember her as the most gentle and caring teacher I think I ever had.  The epitome of what I imagined a perfect teacher should be. She had a way of making you feel completely secure, wrapped in her care. I would do anything for Mrs. Ransom. She would call me her “little lamb.”  I adored her. Still do!

Every year when we address our envelopes for Valentine’s Day, I think of her. That was what was running through my mind when Taylor spoke those same words to me. But as I reflected on it, I realized that I don’t just “think” of Mrs. Ransom. It’s more than that. It’s almost as though I feel her presence in that lesson and with me while I teach it. I feel her gentleness and speak it with my voice. I hear her clarity with instruction come through my words as I teach the lesson myself. I emulate that constant patience she radiated.  She is IN that lesson. In that moment - with me.

I started thinking of how often I have felt that same connection while teaching.

Just the other day, I was teaching my students about figurative language. This is an incredibly important lesson, especially if your class is like mine and the majority are EL students whose language levels are across a broad range. In particular, we were talking about colorful words and phrases, like “bamboozle” and “gobbledygook”. It was that last word that struck me, and I was transported.

Transported to a pink house with a white picket fence on the prairie. This house belonged to one of the most creative women I have ever known – Darlene Olsen. A born musician who could play the piano like nothing, but couldn’t read a note. She was the life of the party! The one who could bring the best out of everyone around her, especially children. And she was . . . my Grandma. She used words like “hoity toity” and “gobbledygook” all of the time.

At that moment, she was right there with me. I could hear her sing-song voice, calling me “Erica-Bearika” (because nothing rhymes with Erica), and my enthusiasm for life started rising.  My words became more cheerful. I was calling out the best attributes of every child in that room. I was acting out phrases and selling that lesson like never before, and the kids LOVED it!  And I felt happy. Not just because my students enjoyed and understood the lesson, but because I had a moment with my Grandma again. Moments that were cut short by Alzheimer’s and her passing away. I love that lesson. And I love the word “gobbledygook”.

Sometimes I can feel the strictness of my own 4th grade teacher, Miss Kjergaard, when I am laying down the law or establishing high expectations. She was tough. And we loved her for it . . . eventually.  She knew we could learn, and would not stop pushing until we saw that ourselves.  She was demanding and constant. And she was kind.  She would never push you harder than need be.  She knew when you needed support and when to be soft.  She believed every child had the potential to be amazing. But above all, she was not going to give up on you.

In these moments, the energy for what I am teaching grows stronger because I feel the memory of the person who taught it. The joy I feel when I say their names. Being swept to a different time and place, I can see clearly the message I am meant to relay. The past, working in the present, teaching the future.

My teaching finds depth.  And, it finds life. My teaching finds SOUL.

The mechanics of teaching, I appreciate. The science of learning, I find invigorating. But, empty curriculum and robotic lessons can never compare to the wholeness and fulfillment we feel as we participate in the personal tradition of teaching. Beyond curriculum. Superior to institution.  Our teaching is inspired. Transcendent.  Soulful.  And, that is something that cannot be measured – but, you sure know when it’s missing.

That is what my Taylor taught me that day.  As I hold my profession closer to my heart, I don’t think I will ever be quite the same. I have always loved education. I adore and love my students.  But I also love that through teaching, there is a space where I can reconnect with my favorite people.  And I love that there will be even more people, more interactions, and more memories that will bring my classroom more soul.

Erica Boomsma is the 2019 South Dakota Teacher of the Year.  Passionate and driven to teach from a young age, she was inspired by excellent teachers. With a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, she has served as an adjunct professor and elementary educator for 19 years.  Teaching students from around the world, she strives to bring learning to life.  Her greatest joys and accomplishments are found in her students’ enthusiasm to learn and their successes as they achieve things they never thought they could while working together as a “family” without bias. Boomsma loves her profession and even more, the students she teaches.  She believes every child, regardless of race, gender, creed, or socioeconomic status, can learn – advocating for every student’s right to a strong education and the opportunity for success.  There is nothing in this world that she would rather do. For Erica, THIS is her dream come true; her lifelong goal fulfilled – she is a teacher!



© 2017 NNSTOY, All Rights Reserved
Website by David Taylor Design | NJ Website Design Company