Kim Thomas has taught math for more than two decades. Most recently, she joined the staff at Woodruff Alternative School in Peoria, Illinois, where she’s been for the last four years. Woodruff serves students who have been expelled from their former school, and many of them, Kim says, face challenging life circumstances outside the classroom.
Kim sees each student as worthy of love and respect, and nothing matters more than inspiring a joy of learning when they’re in her classroom. She lives by it.
Here is Kim, in her own words, on the 8 keys to her teaching philosophy – and how she brings a positive parabola to students’ faces every day.
Come into the classroom each year like it’s your first.
You have to be that excited every day. I really have a hard time sleeping before the first day of school. I’m so excited to meet the kids that I’m going to have and the things I thought of to do with them. I absolutely love it.
Happiness above all.
Students have to be happy before they’re ever going to learn anything. If I see a kid who looks upset, I ask, “What can I do to make you happy?” Because if you say, “What’s wrong with you?” then you’re assuming something’s wrong with them. “What can I do to make you happy?” really turns them around.
Play to the student’s interests.
It’s so important to keep up with the trends of what kids like because then they will pay attention. If you can’t make it valuable and interesting, it’s not going to work.
Make it fun.
I know sometimes lessons aren’t the most fun. But I also think it’s about how things are presented. I’ll say, “OMG, you guys, here’s the truth about triangles. You’re not going to believe it.” And they’re very interested. I call them my “mathttention getters.” I have my kids for 10 x 9 minutes. That’s a long time. They’ve got to have that fun.
Make it relevant.
Everybody is going to have to deal with money and budgeting. I always try to bring in real world examples of how they might use math: ordering a pizza, using coupons at the grocery store, etc. Basic stuff that I feel sometimes falls through the cracks in teaching at school.
I make mistakes every day, and I’ll say, “I’m sorry.” It’s okay for students to make mistakes in my room. You’re learning when you do that. You shouldn’t know this material yet.
Everybody deserves to be loved, even the toughest kids. No matter how tough a kid is, they deserve to feel loved.
Give second chances.
That’s what our school is for. I believe in those second chances. Everybody deserves them. I’m here to help my kids figure out how to be successful when they go back to their other school. I always tell them, “This isn’t your ending. This is your beginning.”
This is the final installment of a four-part series on the mathemagical teacher Kim Thomas, Illinois’ 2016 Teacher of the Year. Read Part 1: Mathematics Month: The Contagiousness of Kim Thomas’ Mathilicious Teaching; Part 2: Mathematics Month: 5 Practical Ways to Mathivate Kids; Part 3: Celebrating Teachers: Why I Love Being a Math Mom.