from Nicole Williams   former student in English  1994

In the mid 1990’s, Dr. Jim Tomek taught a summer course of elementary French that combined two semesters worth of work into one summer term of six weeks. My classmates and I spent about four hours a day, five days a week, for six weeks with Dr. Tomek, and we enjoyed every minute of it! This man has more energy and enthusiasm…that certain esprit de vivre…than any other human being I’ve ever known; he personifies “the joy of learning.”

Ten years later, I still remember the sparkle in his eyes when he would recount and illustrate some new and exciting connections he’d discovered between disciplinary ideas; my only regret is that I have not yet become more like him although I still consider him an exemplar of the kinds of learning I truly wish to pursue.

Above and beyond any accolades I could assign to him for his teaching abilities—sense of humor, ability to reach students, passion for knowledge and critical thinking—Dr. Tomek has a kind and generous heart. There is nothing he would not do to help a student understand…or, in many cases, to understand his students. He shares knowledge with others, not for the purposes of elevating his persona or to express intellectual prowess for its own sake, but to envelope those he cares about in the vision he carries brightly, like a torch, in his compassionate breast.

Dr. Tomek is truly an academic “man for all seasons,” and I would recommend him to anyone who wished to delve deeply into the realm of human expression—be it language, literature, music, philosophy, or, simply, the realm of thought itself.

But perhaps the most powerful remembrance I have of Dr. Tomek is one that is profoundly simple; I have passed this particular idea on to my children and my own students—I only hope that they fully realize its wisdom as well:

Dr. Tomek was explaining reflexive French verbs one day and ennuyer (to bore) was one of the selected group. He said that this was a particularly interesting verb because the French “Je m’ennui” is so much more accurate than the English “I am bored.” Apparently, the French hold themselves responsible for this state of being and reflexively announce, “I bore myself.”

He exercised a notable pause, and looked at us, and told us that it is the absolute truth. He said that there is no other reason or explanation for being bored because we always have our minds with us and we can always be learning or thinking something, even if we are trapped in a “boring” situation. The mind is free to wander and can never be contained unless we cause it to be so ourselves.

I never said “I’m bored” again. And I don’t let my children say it either. I also challenge my students with that idea if I begin to see glazed eyeballs when it’s time to choose a topic for an essay. I tell them that it is completely within their control to make their topics, their essays, and even their lives interesting, exciting, or passionate, but I don’t think everyone is ready to hear it.

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one in class who remembers about Je m’ennui; I know I’ll never forget it, and I know I’ll always respect and admire the man who handed me profound Truth in an elementary French grammar lesson.


Merci beaucoup, M. Tomek!

~Nicole J. Williams

Mother of two and adjunct instructor of English Composition

at North Harris College and ITT Technical Institute.