Spotlight: Timothy Thomas (AZ '16)March 16, 2017
Principal Timothy Thomas (AZ '16) has a mountain of administrative responsibilities, but his favorite moments are the ones he spends visiting classrooms: "I love kneeling down next to primary students and having them read for me." Tim received Arizona's 2016-17 Milken Educator Award at Rogers Ranch School in Phoenix on February 15, 2017.
Milken Educator Awards: How did you end up in education?
Timothy Thomas: I knew I always wanted to be a teacher. I had great teachers as a child growing up in an at-risk neighborhood. They mentored me and inspired me to go to college and to want to help others. I always had an ability to connect and reach young people in hopes of getting them to see their potential.
MEA: Why elementary school?
Tim: The best thing about the elementary level is catching them while they're young and being able to help shape or mold them into becoming productive citizens. For me it's about forming the bond early so there are fewer academic and social gaps to fill as they get older. The frustrating part is that many of the elementary students don't see past tomorrow. It's important for me to give them that vision where they see themselves as being successful and attending college.
MEA: What was your first job?
Tim: I was a bus boy in a restaurant. That job taught me the virtue of patience. Dealing with the public can be very challenging and you have to learn not to take things personally when others are having a bad day. My first job also taught me the importance of having a strong work ethic. I was often complimented by supervisors because of my hard work and professionalism at a young age, and that taught me that people do notice those things.
MEA: Who was your most memorable elementary school teacher?
Tim: Ms. Erving, my sixth-grade teacher. She kept me out of a lot of trouble. She also got me in trouble when she would call my parents and tell them I was hanging around with others who were not a good influence on me. I appreciate her for that.
MEA: Which subjects did you like (or not)?
Tim: My least favorite subject was math. It wasn't until high school that math clicked for me. I then became a middle school math teacher. My favorite subjects were history and geography. I really enjoy reading about the past and visiting places that are historic.
MEA: Tell us about your first class.
Tim: I want to apologize to all of the students in my first class! If I had known then what I know now about teaching they would have received a better education. The students knew it was my first year and were very good to me. We bonded well and I still keep in touch with many of those students (now adults).
MEA: What was your transition like from the classroom to administration?
Tim: I pride myself on always being a teacher even though I'm not in the classroom. I never want to become disconnected from what goes on inside the classroom so I make sure I visit every classroom and every teacher every day. I make sure that I continue to build great relationships with the students in order to continue to have an impact on their lives. The administration job is different because there is so much more responsibility. Schools are complex organizations; I have to spend time on the managerial aspects as well as the instructional pieces.
MEA: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students and teachers at your school?
Tim: I think the Milken Award presentation affected the entire community. It showed that people really do value public education. It validated that all the hard work we put in every day does not go unrecognized, and it helped inspire and motivate us to continue to do this important work.
MEA: What do you hope your students remember about you and their time at your school?
Tim: I hope students always remember feeling safe and comfortable at a place where they were valued and recognized. I hope they look back and know that we did everything we could to ensure they got a quality education, with the skills to succeed in high school and college.
MEA: How do you involve parents and families at your school?
Tim: We try to provide as many opportunities as possible for families to get on campus. We have STEM nights, carnivals, curriculum nights, sporting events, choir and band concerts. We want parents to be involved and feel proud of their children for their accomplishments.
MEA: What's your favorite time of the school day?
Tim: When I'm in classrooms. I love kneeling down next to primary students and having them read for me. I like going into the middle school classes and joking with the older kids. My favorite thing to ask them is, "Are you working hard or hardly working?"
MEA: What's the biggest challenge you face at your school?
Tim: Public perception. Everybody thinks they know what a teacher does because they sat in the classroom once as a student. The reality is that nobody knows what a teacher does unless they are in the profession. The job never ends and the roles they are asked to play increase every year.
MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars to use for your school, what would you do with it?
Tim: I would increase teacher salaries. I have the best teaching staff around and they deserve so much more even though they don't expect it.
MEA: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?
Tim: Late in college I debated between being a teacher and a lawyer. I'm big into politics and an advocate for students and public schools, so hopefully I would have been involved in something along those lines.
MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?
Tim: Teaching is the most difficult job in the world, but it's the most important. I think we need to recognize and celebrate our teachers in the field for what they do. Value them and get them to see the positive results and fruits of their labor so they want to continue to do it. For those considering teaching, I think we need to get them in classrooms and let them see the magic that is taking place every day.
MEA: Finish this sentence: "I know I'm succeeding as an educator when..."
Tim: ...when former students come back and share their success stories. When parents tell me their child has been to many schools, this is the best one, and they are not leaving. When large numbers of teachers and staff return each year and we continue to see student achievement results increase.
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