Every day Kaj Holm walks into the doors of Jefferson Elementary School armed with a smile and an eagerness to teach.
“My first year of teaching has been absolutely amazing,” said Holm, a Charleston fifth grade teacher and Eastern Illinois University alumnus. “I never woke up and felt like I had to get up and go to a job. I always wake up with a smile on my face, and I am happy to be able to do what I love, and actually get paid for it.”
While Holm would be perfectly content with the everyday reward of seeing his students learn, the first-year teacher was recognized statewide for his dedication and commitment to his students. In May, Holm received the Outstanding Beginning Teacher Award, rewarded by the Illinois Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
It was no surprise to Holm’s students, fellow teachers, parents and educators that he received the award — even though it was to him. “I do not know why I deserve the award,” Holm said. “Someone clearly saw something in me to nominate me, but I am not in the profession for awards and recognition.”
After observing him as a student and as a professional, Diane Jackman, dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies at EIU, knows exactly why Holm deserved the award.
“Kaj Holm’s energy and enthusiasm for helping his students is contagious,” she said. “He creates an exciting atmosphere in his classroom that makes his students truly want to learn.”
In his classroom, Holm’s spends his time teaching ‘outside the book’ by spending money out of his own pocket to buy supplies for projects. His teaching philosophy is exactly what he learned at EIU—hands on. Some of his projects include leading a CSI investigation, building bridges out of toothpicks, creating an American Revolutionary War museum and constructing kites and boomerangs.
Throughout the year, the projects help his students fine tune their motor and thinking skills.
While Holm admits that he is focused on learning, he also wants his students to have fun too, and he is not afraid to go the extra mile and even dress the part. For example, Holm dressed as an elf for the holiday season and wore a dress for a performance of “Twelfth Night.”
Not only does Holm teach his classes with his ‘contagious energy,’ but he is also involved with many organizations for his students and for the general support of public education. He helps guide the fifth grade student council and the district’s Lego Robotic League. In the league, Holm teaches his students science and technology skills. In his spare time, he also tutors math to other students throughout the district.
Right now, Holm also serves as the union representative for the Charleston Education Association. He traveled to Chicago to represent the chapter, and in the summer, Holm will also travel to Colorado to represent the chapter nationally.
“A lot of what comes with teaching I had expected,” he said. “Being a first-year teacher, there is a lot of hard work and a lot of extra hours you put in, but as long as you use your time wisely there is no reason to stress out. I just take things one day at a time, and I try to stay organized and prepared.”
Before teaching, Holm endured some failed attempts at other professions before he discovered his true calling.
“I dibbled and dabbled in a lot of different things, and I changed various professions, and finally decided to give teaching a try because I enjoy sharing information and I enjoy interacting with children,” he said.
“And being a child at heart, I thought maybe this could be for me.”
Holm graduated with an elementary education degree at EIU in Spring 2013, and he is currently working on a master’s degree at EIU in mathematics focused on elementary education.
Throughout his time at EIU, Holm said he experienced many hands-on experiences, and even went on a study aboard trip to Andros Island in the Bahamas where he taught underprivileged students.
Holm was one of nine award winners from throughout the state of Illinois. During the award banquet, he was able to meet with different legislators and chat about current legislation affecting education.
Holm teaches math, science and social studies at Jefferson. “I am teaching because it is something I love,” Holm said. “I was just doing what I want to do on a regular basis.”