“I give my kids hugs every day when they walk in the door and always say something special to them. I was dropping my kids off at music just now and noticed something was off with one little boy,” says Ronnique Major. “I said, ‘Are you okay?’ And he just kind of mumbled his response. I looked at him again and asked, ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ And he just says, ‘Yeah.’ I know something is wrong and it’s going to bother me all day until he tells me. I’m going to watch him and check in on him.”

Images Courtesy of Sarasota County Schools

My kids. The fifth-graders Major speaks of are not her biological children, but they are her family just the same. Everybody around Major, a fifth-grade teacher at Sarasota’s Emma E. Booker Elementary School, seems to become a part of her larger family. It stems from her love of what she does for her students and their families, for the educators around her and for her own nuclear family. It’s why students she taught in her third-grade class in Maryland in 1995 still reach out to her. And it’s why, in December, after 30 years of teaching (25 at Emma E. Booker), Major was named the 2024 Sarasota County Teacher of the Year. “Ms. Major is passionate about student achievement. For her, it’s not just about teaching academics; it’s ensuring she’s instilling life lessons and cultivating future leaders,” says Cameron Parker, principal of Emma E. Booker Elementary School. “She’s teaching children of past students. So when she makes calls home, the parents know she cares, because she has put the same time and energy into the person on the other end of the line.”

 “Teaching is something that I knew I wanted to do from very early on. I love working with children, and I absolutely love what I do each and every day.  My parents were teachers. I’ve always been around teachers,” says Major. “I had the best role models, as far as my parents, for what a teacher should be because they had great relationships with their students. I know it’s one of the main things that keeps me going–building those relationships with my students and their families–because that's what I saw growing up, how my parents related to their students and to their families.”

Images Courtesy of Sarasota County Schools

Major gravitated toward early education for a number of reasons. Sure, junior high and high school seemed “a little too hormonal” for her taste, but it was mostly because of the impact that she can make with her students at a young age. Fifth grade is the end of the line for students at Emma E. Booker; it’s an important pivot point before they head into middle school. Classes will invariably get harder, teachers will likely demand more and hormones will be flying every which way, but for a moment in their academic careers, these students can be safe in Major’s classroom. 

“I had such an amazing elementary experience myself and I wanted to make sure that I was able to make that happen for the children I teach. It might not be a schoolwide feeling that they get, but I definitely make sure that, when they step in my room, they feel the love and they feel encouraged with everything that they do,” says Major. “You have to be there in the moment with them. As adults, we all have things that take our minds a million places, but when you’re here with them, you have to be present in that moment.”