Educator Spotlight: Niki Boerema, West Shore ESD.

March 27, 2022

Niki Boerema

Educator Spotlight: Niki Boerema, West Shore ESD.

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, Staff Writer.

Educator Spotlight is a presentation of is a presentation of Smith & Eddy Insurance, with offices in Scottville and Manistee, offering discounts for MEA members and school employees.

LUDINGTON – A lot of educators pursue the career because they’ve had relatives or friends who were also in the field, but West Shore Educational Service District teacher and Ludington native, Niki Boerema had a different reason for entering the field of education. Boerema’s older brother, Erik was born with Down syndrome. Niki’s family was always very involved in Erik’s education and extra curricular activities, which opened Niki’s eyes to the world of special education at a very young age.

“I’ve wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I was inspired specifically to be a special education teacher because my older brother, Erik. I think my family’s experiences provide me with a unique ability to connect with students and parents, as I understand the joys and challenges of having a family member with a disability.”

Boerema has been in education for 17 years and all of those years have been spent in the same classroom, which has only made Boerema even more passionate about her students and the program she leads.

“My classroom is a WSESD classroom housed at Ludington High School. It’s a self-contained MoCI (moderately cognitively impaired) classroom for students ages 16-20,” she said. “My classroom provides a unique learning environment in that my students are in my classroom getting the special education support that they need, but we are in Ludington High School so my students are still participating in activities with their peers like lunch in the cafeteria, assemblies, etc. Our classroom focuses on life skills that my students will need in order to be independent in their adult life. We participate in a lot of engaging activities at Ludington High School such as industrial arts class, art, packing bags for Lakeshore Food 4 Kids, etc.”

Having been in the same room for almost 20 years, Boerema has really been given the opportunity to fine-tune the program to meet the needs of each of her students and helping them prepare for life after they graduate.

“I love the age that I teach,” she said. “My students are young adults who are right on the cusp of really becoming who they will be as adults. It’s exciting to see the independence that they gain throughout their time in my classroom program. Because I have students for four to five years, we really get to form a bond and grow together. My students are young adults, they have the same hopes, dreams, aspirations, and teenage drama that all other teenagers experience too. It’s important to create experiences and activities that are age-respectful of my students while still being at developmentally appropriate levels for them. My end-goal for each student is for them to be independent, successful contributors to their communities. So I try to look for opportunities that foster that.”

Because she works with students who are nearing the end of their of their time in high school, Boerema really enjoys working with each of her students and helping them determine what they want to do after they leave her classroom and making sure they know she is always going to be their cheerleader in life, no matter what they choose to pursue.

“My favorite thing about being a teacher is my relationship and connection with my students,” she said. “I want all of my students to feel loved, connected, and safe. The way to reach that is to create positive relationships so that they know that our classroom is a safe place in all ways. It’s so rewarding to see students make gains. Because I have students for several years, I’m able to see the progress they make on their goals, and how they are blossoming into responsible young adults. I enjoy helping to support families to be advocates for everything their son/daughter deserves. It’s important at this age to assist students and their families in planning long-term for what they’d like to achieve. Early on in their school career we start to look at what types of jobs they’re interested in, what recreation and leisure activities they want to do, where they want to live, etc. It’s my job as their teacher to help them make steps toward achieving those aspirations.”

During the last decade or so, education hasn’t been as much as a sought after career as it was in the past. Many students are choosing careers outside of education because of all the changes that have been made in the educational world. Boerema stated that she would love to see my students consider pursuing education as a career because there will always be a need for great educators to all types of students and backgrounds they bring into school., but they also need to realize the stressors that teaching can bring as well.

“I think it is paramount for anyone going into education to be trauma-informed,” she said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. Students come to us from all walks of life, experiencing so many different things that we can (and can’t) imagine. Trauma impacts and manifests in students in a multitude of ways, and having a trauma-sensitive classroom can make all the difference in students’ behaviors and emotions. 

Being flexible is probably one of the most pivotal parts of being a teacher, especially a special education teacher. Every day is something different- sometimes every moment is something different. As a teacher you have to be prepared to wear many different hats and multi-task. So often you encounter things that they don’t teach you about or prepare you for in college, and you have to learn to think on your feet and trust your own instincts. I would also encourage anyone going into education to make it a priority to achieve a good work-home life balance. Teachers live the life of a teacher so much inside and outside of school that it can be hard to turn that off. It’s important to create boundaries so that you can enjoy and devote time to your family without the pressures of school as well.”

Although education has its ups and downs, working with students has always been Boerema’s number one passion, but she also knows that the world of education isn’t just about students anymore, like she wishes it would still be. She stated that there are a lot more demands on all teachers, which can be hard, especially when that time is being taken away for your time with students.

“The demands that are placed on teachers can be pretty overwhelming, especially since the pandemic,” she said. “I wish people realized how hard teachers work and all of the responsibilities that are put upon us. Teaching is not for the faint of heart or someone who wants to clock in and clock out. I wake up thinking about my students, I lose sleep over my students. I love them, I worry about them. If everyone understood how much we devote our lives to what we do, I think there would be a little less criticism.”

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