A goal to see all students succeed drives the Crossroads Park educator chosen for a statewide honor.
Sixth-grade teacher Tamara Tjeerdsma was selected as one of five finalists for the Iowa Teacher of the Year award. She will be honored with the other finalists and award winner Clemencia Spizzirri of Des Moines at a ceremony in March.
Tjeerdsma has been with West Des Moines Community Schools since 2004, teaching at Western Hills and Westridge elementaries before moving to Crossroads Park this year. She previously taught at schools in Kansas and also northwest Iowa and served as an adjunct professor at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan.
A tough childhood spurred her interest in helping kids. Being part of the foster system from the age of 5 showed her the need to make sure children didn’t fall through the cracks, Tjeerdsma said, and she initially majored in social work in college to “change the ills I thought were still part of society.”
A junior-year social work program based at a school caused Tjeerdsma to rethink her plans and switch to education. She recalled how two educators had shown interest in her as a child and decided teaching was the best way for her to improve children’s lives. Her reward now is seeing students gain confidence and realize they can succeed inside and outside the classroom.
“I’m here to invest in children from all walks of life,” she said. “This is where my passion is, this is where my love is.”
Dr. Lindsay Grow, an assistant professor of education at Grand View University, nominated Tjeerdsma in April for the annual state award. Tjeerdsma mentored Grow during Grow’s first years of teaching at Western Hills.
“Tamara’s ability to inspire students, communicate with parents and work with colleagues is superior,” Grow wrote in her nomination letter. “She is always looking for innovative ideas and ways to adapt and differentiate the curriculum to meet the needs of the learners in her class.”
Tjeerdsma has taught fourth through sixth grades along with math-specific curriculum throughout her career. She’s held several collaborative roles in the West Des Moines district, such as serving on the Online Learning Committee and the Professional Development Leadership Team. She also was the facilitator of the Partners for Student Success program at Westridge.
It’s important for teachers to work together, she said. “I truly believe in collaboration and I’ve learned alongside incredible individuals.”
That interaction extends to the parents as well. Sixth-grade students in particular are facing emotional and physical changes along with academic growth, she said, and her role is to give parents the support needed to encourage their children at home as well as at school.
Former students sometimes send Tjeerdsma letters expressing their gratitude for the encouragement she provided. Those notes remind her of the important roles teachers have in the lives of their students.
“Each one of us never knows the difference we may make,” she said.