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Cella Bosma graciously accepts John Calvin Award

By Sally Jongsma

Anyone who knows Professor Cella Bosma can relate to the comment made by a student following one of her first classes as a college teacher: “I don’t know if she took a breath the whole hour.” Bosma’s energy isn’t unharnessed, though; it’s an indication of her passion for everything she does.

Cella Bosma

Cella Bosma

Bosma didn’t enter the teaching profession until after she had three children of her own. “I loved exposing the kids to new things and watching them learn about God’s world and how it works,” she says. She also had a model: her mother was an elementary school teacher who kept learning new things to share with her students and her children.

Bosma taught elementary school for many years before she joined the Dordt College education faculty six years ago. Teaching teachers and interacting with colleagues have pushed her to develop a more focused understanding of what Christian teaching is, she believes.

“When I started teaching I thought it was good that we taught Bible, and had chapel, and could talk about God,” she says. But she feels she didn’t consciously articulate in everything she was teaching that the whole world is God’s, and that children, too, have responsibilities in that world.

“It’s easy to think of God as someone out there who will fix things for us, without understanding that he is so much more,” she says. She recalls one of her early trips to Mississippi with a work group during which she served as a Bible school instructor. “We thought we were going to teach the children Bible stories. But their grandmas had done a great job of that. I came to see that what we needed to teach them was who God is and how he works in their lives,” she says. If that is not the focus, Bible stories too easily become moral lessons.”

Probably one of the most memorable experiences in her teaching career is the way a fifth grade class responded to that emphasis one year.

“As the boys were talking one day about what they were going to be when they grew up—NFL players, stock car drivers, astronauts—I sensed that they did not feel part of God’s kingdom right now. The same thing has happened with my college students, even though the professions they list may seem more realistic or respectable. They’re not thinking that even now they have responsibilities as God’s children.” In her fifth grade class that year, Bosma talked openly and often about that responsibility and said she was amazed and humbled by how it changed not only their attitudes but also how they worked and related to one another that year.

She believes that is also one of the strengths she’s seen in the Dordt College education program—helping students understand what it means to be a Christian teacher. “We always have room to improve, but students are definitely grappling with these issues.”

For Bosma, a good day is when she sees her students’ eyes light up, catching the sense of excitement that comes from really engaging ideas—whether or not they buy everything she says. “I want them to take what I say and think about it, interact with me and others, and respond thoughtfully.” That’s how students grow and develop in their thinking—and how she does too.

The move from elementary school to college was in some ways harder than she expected, not because it was so much more difficult, but because she initially thought she should teach much differently.

“After starting out lecturing for the whole class period, I soon came to realize that using effective teaching strategies works in any classroom; they simply need to be geared to the maturity of the student and engage the subject matter at hand.” So she went back to ways of teaching that helped engage her elementary students and today engage her college students.

Bosma was humbled and surprised to receive the John Calvin Award and is quick to say that the opportunity to teach at Dordt College has been both stimulating and educational. “Colleagues learn so much from each other,” she says, expressing appreciation for the many people who have helped her become a better teacher.

Bosma’s energy isn’t what it usually is these days, as her body fights cancer and the effects of chemotherapy, but her passion for helping students realize their place in God’s kingdom is as strong as ever. Her eyes and her words, as she talks and teaches, continue to show it.