BARNESVILLE, Minn. — As a teenager growing up near Roseau, Minn., Eloise Sobtzak had already chosen her future career path.
“When I was 18, I knew one day I would teach children how to read,” said Sobtzak. “I always loved reading. I could read for hours.”
Sixty-three years later, Sobtzak, now 81 and living in a long-term care facility in Barnesville, Minn., has turned from avid reader to published author, with her first book, “New Teachers: Expect the Unexpected,” a collection of short stories and advice from her 30 years of teaching kindergarten, first and second grade.
“It’s really for new teachers, even new parents,” she said. “There are just so many things I wish I had known when I started teaching.”
Sobtzak relays some funny stories in the book, like the time she had to talk to a little boy who was swearing in class.
“I asked him 'Do you talk that way at home?’ He said, ‘No.’ So I said, ‘You should only say those words if you’re praying.’”
Sobtzak says she later caught the boy muttering the words under his breath.
“I said, ‘Remember what we talked about?’ He said, ‘But I was praying.’ Smart kid,” she said.
Other stories are kind of sad, like the time one of her second-graders was crowing like a rooster on top of his desk, and she said to him, “I don’t like how you were behaving, but I like you.”
The boy went home and told his mother that his favorite part of school was that “My teacher likes me!”
“I have a feeling no one ever told him that in kindergarten or first grade,” she said. “His behavior began changing for the better, and he seemed to feel better about himself.”
In the book, it’s clear Sobtzak embraced her years as a teacher and lived by a few important adages, including “If you’re not having fun, the students aren’t having fun.”
Sobtzak’s daughter, Kelly Timm, followed her mother’s footsteps into teaching, in part because she saw the joy and satisfaction she got from it. Timm says while her mother retired in 2000, her advice is still relevant today.
“She has never wavered in her philosophy to see children as individuals and meet them where they are at academically and socially,” Timm said. “ Her advice of "catching kids being good" and emphasizing positive behaviors is timeless advice.”
Sobtzak says she wrote the book for all of her six children and 11 grandchildren.
“I wanted them to know what mom and grandma did when I left the house everyday,” she said. ”It was a way for them to get to know me a little better.”
While Sobtzak says she’s always loved reading, the idea to write a book is a fairly recent one. A stroke in 2004 left her unable to move her left hand and arm, but her memories were still vivid. A counselor suggested she write down her stories. She says it was about a year ago that she finally took her advice, but it didn’t really take off until the pandemic did.
Because of the high risk at long-term care facilities, Sobtzak’s friends and family, including husband Dennis, could only visit her through a window.
“It’s been really tough. I’m such a family person.”
The COVID-19 lockdown made for some long days, and Sobtzak found herself getting a little bored.
“Our activity director here (Valley Care and Rehab) does a good job keeping us busy, but there were days when I just wanted to go off and write,” she said.
And when she says "write", she means it. She didn’t use a computer or even a typewriter. She hand-wrote her manuscript with her good hand.
“The staff had to pass the handwritten drafts back and forth to us and the edits back to Mom at the front door,” said daughter Lane Pereboom of Moorhead.
Pereboom typed the manuscript and edited it with help from the other siblings. To keep it in the family, Sobtzak’s granddaughter Lucy designed the cover, and other kids donated the artwork in the book.
Sobtzak says the book was a great release for her during lockdown.
“It helped pass the time and get my mind off of everything,” she said.
She says because the book is mostly for family, she doubts many people will read it, but it was still important for her to share her nuggets of wisdom for anyone taking on the incredible job of teacher.
“I felt such responsibility every day I taught,” she said. “Children take everything to heart. They’re like little sponges. They take in everything. That’s a big responsibility. It matters what teachers say and do.”