Camelot Teacher Profile: Heather Thomas
Heather Thomas grew up in the Reading Public School District before heading to Susquehanna University to obtain a degree in sociology and diversity studies. She later moved to Colorado to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Colorado Springs.
Her desire to teach and serve the students in her hometown led her to move back to Reading where she is a science teacher at one of Camelot’s newest schools, Paramount Academy. Paramount serves students with emotional needs who have not been successful in more traditional district settings.
Paramount Academy is in its first year, and this is also your first year with Camelot. How are things going?
I like that it is so flexible and we have the opportunity to build those relationships with the kids, instead of just pressing on with academics. Especially with this population of kids, you have to build that relationship and trust before you can teach them and we’re given that opportunity. We teach the required standards, but we are able to teach that therapeutic family relationship which helps them want to learn.
It’s very supportive, you never feel like you’re out on your own. Everyone’s willing to work together, it’s cohesive, and it’s a great school and a great company. Being able to take these kids in like we do and showing them and giving them that hope is something that I’ve always wanted to do- and we do it here at Camelot. You don’t have to fit the confines of traditional teaching, you have the flexibility to do whatever it is to reach that child and you’re supported in that.
The population of students at Paramount all has a unique set of challenges. Is there a quote or phrase that inspires your work?
“Don’t give up if you still have something left to give.” There are those days when you can’t see the direct impact you are having on those students and you want to give up. But this is what we do, we can’t give up.
And then there are those days when it is evident that what you’re doing is working. When a student comes up and thanks you for not giving up on them because they are used to people giving up on them, and they’ve accomplished what they never thought they could, -especially academically- that’s when you know you’re doing the right thing.
What are the challenges that you and your fellow teachers experience? How do you overcome them?
The academic level that some of the kids are coming to us at is always a challenge. We have seniors that are at a second grade reading level. They are so used to being pushed through the system, now they are in an environment where they are expected to perform and do something, and their norm in the past has been to just show up and do whatever they want and then be passed through.
It was hard trying to break through to the kids and make them realize this isn’t like any other placement. We care about you and we’re here to teach you. We want to give you those skills you need to go out into the world-by allowing you not to do anything, that’s not how it happens.
We have to change their way of thinking and show them that they can do it, because a lot of them don’t believe in themselves.
Did you ever expect to be working with students at an alternative school?
I knew that I always wanted to, but I wasn’t sure it would happen. I thought I would work with these students, maybe in a sports or recreation program, but I had no idea I would become a teacher.
In Colorado, I started working at an alternative school as a classroom counselor. I decided that I was good at it, and I could build the relationship that I want to build with students and I enjoyed that, so I went back to school for teaching.
What’s your favorite lesson to teach?
Teaching environmental science to my students has been my favorite part of this year. Seeing the light bulb go off when we talked about renewable energy and car pollution…. seeing them put what I was teaching them and adapting it to what they already know or are experiencing was awesome. It was nice to see how simple it all was once they were able to make those connections.
Students are also excited to work in the garden we have. The kids are really interested in renovating it. I’m not really good at gardening, so it’s a process that we’re going to learn together. They want to raise their own vegetables! It’s crazy to see how aware they are about eating healthy. When it gets warmer out we are going to clean up the garden and make our own Paramount Garden.