Embracing the ministry of education
Jimmie Wallis once had to make the difficult decision to care for an ill parent in her home. All of the stress involved with that decision as a daughter was coupled with responsibilities as a teacher, spouse, and mother for the Ardmore native.
While a common decision for Americans wrought with physical and emotional side effects, Wallis found peace with another part of her family every weekday and may be one of the few to find peace in a room full of kindergarten students.
“Truly, being able to walk back into my classroom and seeing children that were 5 and 6 years old, that were such eager learners, that embraced that learning...that’s hope. That’s what kept me going.”
Wallis has spent more than four decades in education, but the first 15 years of her career were spent as a speech pathologist. It wasn’t until her own children started to attend Oak Hall Episcopal School that the headmaster at the time, Ginny Little, convinced Wallis to get into the classroom.
The speech pathologist and business owner went on to earn an elementary education degree and later became an Oak Hall teacher where she could watch her daughters grow up. Once they advanced to high school, however, Wallis had a decision to make.
“It was the opportunity that I took thinking that when my children left here I would go back to speech (pathology), but I bought into the basic philosophy of ‘our school’ and I still have the passion for it,” she said.
Decades of shaping some of the youngest minds has produced countless students who have gone on to graduate high school and college, but Wallis said some still stop by her Oak Hall classroom to check in. She said those visits are some of the biggest thrills she has experienced as a teacher.
“I know that I’ve touched lives when people seek me out,” she said.
The gestures from former students may have been prompted by the lessons Wallis reiterates for her class. While academic knowledge is important in any classroom setting, lessons from Oak Hall chapel services play an equally important role in her kindergarten class.
“With the opportunities to have chapel every day at Oak Hall, then when we come back in many times we will have the opportunity to discuss what was discussed in chapel,” she said. Many of the biggest takeaways in her classroom revolve around relationships and respect.
“If we can plant those seeds when they're younger, then perhaps that’s going to provide some kind of foundation that they can rely upon when they’re older,” she said.
After 27 years at Oak Hall, Wallis shows no signs of slowing down but recognizes that education is evolving. She said some of the most challenging parts of teaching have been keeping up with technology but knows that the goal of education is timeless.
“Children are children. Sure, different standards have changed and we’ve had to incorporate that, but as far as the challenges, it’s just been balancing home, balancing church, balancing classroom,” she said.
The delicate balance between fun environment and educational standards seems to have been found in Wallis’s classroom. Visits to her classroom are often filled with songs and enthusiasm and students show a certain level of respect to classmates and teachers alike.
For Wallis, an important key to maintain that balance comes from establishing that respect for one another. The longtime educator treats the class members not only as students, but as her own children.
“This is truly another family component of my life. We talk about our kindergarten family and that’s a basic tenant of who we are here,” said Wallis.
Wallis has also left a major impact on Oak Hall Episcopal School by helping implement lessons and curriculum that would later turn into national recognition. In 2006, the school was the first in the nation to be recognized as a model school of the Great Expectations
Weekly lessons from Wallis that taught the importance of words through quotes spanned at least a decade before that top honor.
In 2013, another unique lesson was picked up by The Ardmoreite when she invited a member of the Native American Quapaw Tribe to do hands-on activities with students for an entire month.
"It's important for my students to be allowed the opportunities to be individuals — to explore, to be curious, to celebrate accomplishments, and to embrace and internalize that mistakes are opportunities to learn," Wallis said.
Wallis likens teaching to ministering and believes that it is a calling for some, including herself. While humbled by the nomination for the Amazing Teacher award, she said the only affirmation she's needed is in a stack of letters from students and parents that continues to grow each school year.
“There are individuals who really embrace the ministry of teaching, and those are the most effective individuals in education,” she said.