It was a gloomy winter afternoon. I was sitting on the couch watching a rerun of “The Office” while holding my sleeping newborn. I felt my phone vibrate and looked at the number. I immediately recognized it.
“Uh, oh,” I thought. It was my son’s second-grade teacher, Julia Roegiers. At that point in the school year, we had found ourselves in a bi-weekly cadence of phone calls, offering support to one another as we navigated how to best help a kid who wasn’t too keen on school.
“Hi, Elyssa, I just wanted to call and tell you what a great day Julian is having,” she said.
This was not the conversation I was expecting.
We talked for a few minutes more, and I hung up with a happy heart and sleepy grin. During my now seven years with a school-aged child, it’s the only time a teacher has called—unprompted—to share some good news.
And that’s why I took the opportunity to nominate and celebrate Julia in this issue’s Featured Teacher.
Julia still teaches second grade—then at Shuler Elementary, now at Radiant Elementary. She’s also taught at Wallace Elementary in Johnston. She’s been in the classroom for 15 years, taking a break somewhere in between to stay at home with her three children.
Her teaching style goes beyond fostering excellence in academics. Through daily modeling, redirecting and reinforcing student behavior, she works hard to create an empathetic classroom community.
“We spend a lot of time discussing how we can be caring in our actions and words,” Julia explained. “My classroom is very structured. However, I love to have fun and laugh with my students. I try to encourage them to be curious in the classroom and give them opportunities to take ownership of their learning. When this happens, it provides us with opportunities to empower students.”
Julia said she’s always wanted to be the kind of teacher who positively impacts the lives of her students. But in 2006, at just 38 years old, a grim cancer diagnosis made an unimaginable impact on her life.
“I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC ovarian cancer,” she said. “It was a very scary time as there was a low survival rate. I will be forever grateful to family and friends who prayed for me, helped with the kids, and supported me along the way. Now, at age 51 or—as I tell my students—two quarters and a penny, I am grateful for the gift of each day and the opportunity it provides me to make a difference.”
Julia credits the support of her husband for giving her the ability to continue to do something she loves. “My husband, Jim, and I just celebrated our 26th year of marriage,” she said. “For the past three years, our wedding anniversary has fallen on Waukee’s ‘Back to School Night.’ You know you married the most amazing man when he spends his wedding anniversary helping you in your classroom.”
“He takes on many additional home and kid duties during the school year as well as accepting some of my long school nights and weekend hours,” she added.
When I asked Julia what was most challenging about being a teacher, she said it’s that you’re more than your title. “Teachers do not just teach. We are actors, comedians, encouragers, supporters, healers, huggers, referees and expert shoe-tiers. I think one of the most challenging parts of teaching is that it is a profession in which you can always do more. We carry our students in our hearts and our minds all year.”
When I asked what was most rewarding, her answer was in tune with my random request for an interview and my confession that, “Oh, by the way, we loved you the most.”
“I try to create relationships with students and their parents, so we become a team working together to help each child reach their potential,” she said. “The absolute best is when students connect with you years after you were their teacher.”
“I had one student from Johnston who reached out to me a few years ago,” she explained. “She had named her daughter Julia because of the impact I had on her life. That still gives me the chills. We never know how our words or actions will impact the young lives we come into contact with. Knowing that you have played a small part in making a difference in a child’s life is the goal and dream of every teacher.”