/‘They need someone rooting for them’ Small town teacher finds joy by remembering who she teaches for and why

‘They need someone rooting for them’ Small town teacher finds joy by remembering who she teaches for and why

Nonprofit Mississippi News LEXINGTON – Kristy Thomas is a fourth-grade English teacher at William Dean Jr. Elementary, Holmes County, smiled at her students while she walked down rows of desks and handed back their spelling and vocabulary tests. Thomas looked at him and he sighed. She said, “You made a mistake and didn’t go over your work.” Although her delivery was firm, it didn’t seem like a reprimand. She said, “Don’t be dumb,” before drawing attention to the projected screen set against a neon orange wall. Thomas gave a pep talk as students wrote down the new spelling words for this week in their notebooks. Thomas encouraged students to use their previous week’s grades as a guide. A few spellers who could only recall two of the 10 words correctly were encouraged to increase their scores by at most one or two answers for their next test. She doesn’t want students to score three out of 10. It’s not exactly where they should be. However, there is no quick solution to closing the gap between high-performing students and struggling students. Some of her students were reading at grade level. Others were well on their way to meeting the fourth-grade state testing goals. One student needed to be reminded that sentences begin with a capital letter. She is responsible for just over 100 students. Fourth-graders in her class are on a block schedule and rotate to Thomas’ classes in groups. This puts them under pressure to fulfill their individual needs. Thomas stated, “I teach in one the poorest counties of the state.” “There is a stigma that our students cannot learn or read.” It becomes more difficult to shake that conclusion during the fall, when the Mississippi Department of Education assigns school and district grades. William Dean Jr. was home to less than 1/5 of its students in 2017. Elementary was able to meet the state’s expectations for reading and math. The school was awarded an F in math and reading last October. This low grade hides the hard work teachers put into lesson planning and the long nights they spend preparing classroom activities. You can call them an F school. Those children can’t read. “Those teachers aren’t teaching ?’–but, I would love for test makers to visit our classroom and see that our kids are actually learning,” Thomas stated. On this day, visitors would observe students eager to speak up and talk about their weekend. They would also see Thomas’ efforts in motivating her children. Sometimes, that would mean a smile or a word of encouragement. It’s often as easy as smiling and encouraging. Even when lecturing students who break classroom rules, she’s been known to smile. Her joy almost cost her her class. Thomas had envisioned bringing her positive nature to nursing in order to become a teacher. Krystal Thomas, her twin sister, decided to study education. Her parents, both retired educators, have over 60 years experience in teaching. Gail Thomas said that their parents used to teach them at home as children. “I was happy that they both chose to follow us,” Gail Thomas, Gail Thomas’ mother, said. The Thomas family is Carroll County natives. Their school was so close that they didn’t even have to take the bus. Willie Thomas, Kristy’s father, likes to say that his daughters needed to only walk out their front doors to be “engulfed” in education. Gail and Willie don’t just watch from the sidelines. They drive 30-minutes to Kristy’s school several times per year and host parties. They brought turkey and dressing to Thanksgiving. Willie laughs when he recalls the reaction he got from Kristy’s class when he said that their Christmas party would feature barbecue and hotdogs. “They said, ‘Nooo! He said, imitating their cries, “We want turkey and dressing.” Gail and Willie couldn’t resist giving in. Thomas believes that having a support system is crucial. It is comforting to know that family members understand that school week means that Thomas will be waking up at 5 :15 a.m. instead of 4 :45. Thomas can become tired despite her passion. She has had days when, during her planning breaks, she would turn off the lights and sit down in her reading nook. Sometimes she needed to just be still. Thomas explained that there are times when a lesson doesn’t go as planned or a student doesn’t understand something you’re teaching. This makes you question if you’re doing it right. “Then, the next day, the student comes in to get it.” Her dedication is not lost on anyone. Bridget Wheaton is principal at William Dean Jr. Elementary, said. William Dean Jr. Although Elementary was opened in 2013, the school retains its small-town charm. Classic means don’t trust your GPS. Pass the red brick county Human Services Building, then take a right. Ride over two speed bumps, and then turn left to reach the school. This makes it easier to communicate with students’ families, Thomas and the other teachers. Thomas spends weekends cheering for students who play football or basketball. She also commiserates with them about their losses on Mondays, if necessary. Thomas is entering her 10th year as a teacher. This has allowed her to witness some of her former students go on to college and graduate high school. Many of the students she used to call future doctors or teachers are now working towards that goal. She is aware of the importance she plays in helping learners realize their dreams and shaping their futures. She is determined to stay despite the Holmes County Consolidated Schools District’s teacher shortage that has resulted in one-third of all teaching positions being filled by substitutes. Thomas stated, “I have 90 little faces staring at me and relying on me to educate.” “I can’t give up.”