GaDOE: When did you first realize you wanted to be a teacher?
Ike Thompson: I was in high school. I wish I had one of those stories of the exact moment when my life was changed and I received the calling, then pursuing emphatically this profession with a fire in my heart from that day forward. However, I did not realize until many years later why I was so drawn to this profession. At first it was a love for my subject that drew me to becoming a teacher. I enjoyed writing, and did not have other ideas of what to do as I left high school, so becoming an English teacher seemed appropriate.
Now though I realize it wasn’t having summers off, or simply not knowing what else to do, that drew me to become a teacher; what drew me to the profession were my teachers. I had a couple amazing teachers who saw something in me that I had not seen in myself. Even when I did not want to live up to a perceived potential, teachers like Mrs. Mary Brower found reasons to praise me, not for my athletic ability, personality, or the like, but for my writing, building in me a confidence yet untapped. I had never taken much pride in my academic success until I met her. I also had teachers who were charismatic, intelligent, caring: the characteristics that fostered in me a love for school.
So though if you had asked me at the time why I wanted to become a teacher, I would have said summers off and days ending at 3 p.m. (ha, the mind of a 17-year-old!), I now realize what ushered me to this profession was larger than my understanding at the time. I too wanted to influence the course of someone’s life as these teachers had mine. This role in society I serve has made me infinitely happy, and therefore it cannot be a haphazard decision or coincidence that this is the profession I pursued. Being a teacher has been one of the single most rewarding and prideful decisions I’ve made in my life.
What keeps you in the classroom?
Kids. There is a whole bunch I find about this job interesting and enjoyable, but all that in the end comes back to my love and appreciation for working with kids. While my personal life is very fulfilling and gratifying, nothing in my life has yet meant as much to me as serving as an educator. I certainly recognize that educating our children takes much more than effective teaching (such as school leadership, reformers, parents, community, etc..) but I also recognize that effective teachers sometimes are too quick to make the next move. I am in no rush to leave something that makes me so happy; I wake and go to work excited about my job every day.
GaDOE: What character qualities make great teachers?
Ike: Of course in responding to what makes a great teacher, all of us will include traits such as caring, compassion, intelligence, understanding, and the like. Great teachers have those characteristics, but also illustrate the ability to lead, to effectively communicate, to counsel, to parent, to befriend, to make quick and meaningful decisions. In addition to that, great teachers are those who are knowledgeable and love their subject, are able to hold high expectations for behavior while creating a respectful and enjoyable classroom culture, and earn the respect of their colleagues, leadership team, parents and community, through their devotion to students and craft.
I have also come to believe that great teachers work selflessly for the betterment of all those he or she comes in contact with. The great teachers I have been blessed to work alongside recognize that their subject or class is an important thing, but is only a part contributing to the whole; therefore, they consider the whole in decisions that are made. Great teachers consider every student walking in the door to the school as his or her student. Great teachers don’t use phrases such as “he is beyond help,” “I’m glad she’s not my student,” or “It’s the parents' fault I can’t teach these kids.” Instead, they work to watch EVERY. SINGLE. CHILD. succeed.
GaDOE: What is your favorite part of the school year? Why?
Ike: November through December. I enjoy this time of the year because the newness of the year has dissipated and the kids have settled in, and you start to feel the culture of that specific class develop. It is about this time that trust has been bridged and students have the opportunity now to see more of my personality. Students have gotten comfortable with my approach, my dorky humor (in fact they even begin to laugh occasionally at my jokes), and have begun to instill trust in me. This is the point in the year when teaching becomes a whole bunch of fun.
GaDOE: What is the funniest thing a child has ever said to you?
Ike: I’m not sure if I have a memory that jumps out of a child saying a “funniest” thing to me. Kids are great, my job is great—I laugh with my students every single day. However, one thing that stands out to me as a running joke is the design of our class shirt each year. The students design a shirt to wear to the AP exam. Each year the shirt is meant to be a comment of something memorable from the course, such as a difficult concept mastered, or a funny moment; however, every year the focus goes from the course to making fun of the teacher. My face, along with a funny caption, somehow ends up on the shirt every single year. Oh my students have jokes alright.
GaDOE: What is your favorite technology to use for engaging students in learning?
Ike: Video cameras, green screens, and video editing software. I teach AP Language. The backbone to that course is the study of effective rhetoric in all mediums of communication. Recently I received a grant that permitted me the opportunity to buy video cameras, a green screen, and video editing software. A few times a year my students complete video projects such as commercials, documentaries, movie shorts, etc. These projects are created as a form of presenting effective traits of rhetoric, while allowing them to express their arguments in a variety of creative forms. Not only do students enjoy using the video equipment, but they are proficient in doing so, often creating some really innovative and entertaining projects.
GaDOE: Everyone likes to know the morning routine of successful people. What is yours?
Ike: I’m a much more productive thinker in the morning hours versus the late hours; therefore, I hit the ground running most days, typically waking at about 4:30 a.m. I rise, make coffee, get my two chocolate labs up and eating something, then I sit at my computer and work on something (usually the dissertation these days) until 6 a.m. I then cook breakfast, watch a little ESPN, and prepare to head to work.
GaDOE: What do you tell students when they need encouragement?
Ike: Often times I’m able to lean on my experiences as a teenager and use those experiences to encourage students who struggle. Students often times don’t recognize teachers as having endured times of adversity, pain, discomfort, success, etc…instead teachers are supposed to be constant creatures who are, and remain in their form as appeared in class. When I see a student struggling, I attempt to explain how things most certainly will get better if he or she commits to making it so; I highlight the reality of this by describing experiences in my life in which I too had to do the same.
In the town I live in now, because of the military base, we have many transient students who come and leave the system. These students are more often than not adjusted to the nomadic life of a military family; however, there are those kids occasionally that struggle with the move to another new school. I moved here from Michigan 14 years ago without a single friend, immediately after graduating college. I was lost for some time, but eventually I made a friend or two, which led to many more, which led to happiness, which led to a love for this state and our town. Moving one thousand miles away from my home has been one of the most challenging, yet no doubt the most rewarding events in my life. I remind this to these students and go on to explain that they have something I did not. They have school, a place where hundreds of people who have some of the same interests, are close in age, and are all on the same mission, and must congregate five days a week.
While I know my comparison to their situation is not exactly the same, I feel that sharing personal experiences such as this have a way of making we teachers more relatable to our students, which builds a relationship that in the end means the student is more likely to take words of encouragement to heart.
GaDOE: What do you tell other teachers when they need encouragement?
Ike: I believe that I’m an effective mentor to younger teachers because I am very honest about the hiccups that have occurred throughout my own teaching experience. I was mentoring a new teacher all throughout this past year; for every time he came to me with a question, I discussed with him a response or an action to take, then explained how I knew it should work because I had learned what not to do, the hard way. I, like most educators, have had some great years, and I’ve had some bang-my-head-against-the-wall years. I try to encourage teachers in need to keep their eyes forward on why they got into the profession and remind them that in is in our control to experience happiness in the classroom.
GaDOE: What is the best teaching advice you’ve received?
Ike: After the first six months of my teaching career, I was struggling with managing behavior in the classroom. At the time I was working at a rural, poor district (100% of students were on free-and-reduced lunch). These kids were a challenge. A colleague told me that he too had to learn the hard way that students want a leader, students crave order, and students are forgiving. He went on to say that we need not do anything to make kids like us, that if we are good at what we do, and they come to understand we have their best interest at heart, and you come to honestly love them, they will inevitably like and love you. Don’t look to win their approval, simply do a great job and you’ll get it. The following year I entered the classroom prepared to do just that. While the first four months weren’t the most enjoyable experience because the kids didn’t seemingly like me, something soon happened. The students began to respect me, and that respect turned into a liking and appreciation of me. The last four months of that second year of teaching were some of the most enjoyable and life-changing in my life. I left that school at the end of that year. When telling the students, I was leaving for a variety of reasons, these “rough” and seemingly “grown” students and I bawled together. They loved me and I loved them. It was in that moment that I knew teaching would be a catalyst for happiness in my life.