Revival for educators includes speaker and surprise guest
“You have to teach the child first, then you can teach the subject matter.”
That was the advice of Mary Endres Thomas to educators attending a “Teachers Revival” at Long Branch Baptist Church in Barnwell. The event was held on Thursday, Aug. 3 with approximately 20 educators attending.
“When kids feel like you are special in their eyes, then you can reach them,” said Thomas.
Thomas, of Aiken, is a high school math teacher and author of “Kids These Days: A Teacher's Inspirational Journey That Will Change The Way You Think About Today's Youth”.
Her book, available on Amazon and in paperback, tells inspirational stories of her 40-year career as a teacher.
“We have to teach our kids about life,” said Thomas. “No one came back to thank me for teaching them Algebra.” She said the compliments she got were from students who appreciated her trust in them.
“I always had to be prepared to share a piece of me,” she said. “Teaching doesn’t end at the bell. You never know what ‘stuff’ is going on in their lives. You have to be open and available. If you are not there after three o’clock, you are missing out.”
She says students need positive reinforcement. “It’s all about your attitude, your respect.”
She related a teacher who was having trouble with a unruly class but was advised to find some positive aspects of the students. That class slowly turned around to being disciplined and enjoyable for both the students and the teacher.
She said teachers’ criticism can work against them. “My favorite devotional states, ‘Watch your words diligently. Be quick to listen and slow to speak.’”
Sometimes ignoring a student’s bad attitude is the better track. “You can’t just react to them because that is what they want you to do. Be patient with them.”
She said some students are loud and aggressive “but really just want someone to love them,” said Thomas.
She said her book is a compilation of memories “of those who have touched my heart.”
Growing up with 12 brothers and sisters, Thomas said her parents were loving and patient. “They taught us that life is not about us. Life is how we can help other people.”
She related a story about a young man who also had 11 siblings. His mother didn’t discipline him much and, when he was in middle school, he was playing with matches which resulted in a fire that burned him over 20 percent of his body.
“I’d tell you the rest of the story, but I’d rather let you hear it from him.”
At that point, a tall, strong, able-bodied young man stood up and came before the teachers. It was National Football League player Troy Williams.
Williams told the teachers how “a brother I looked up to” didn’t come home one night after going off with a couple of friends. Those boys asked Troy the next day if his brother came home.
“I later found out they had stolen a car and wrecked it. They pulled my brother out of the car and left him there. They didn’t call anyone. He died there,” said Williams.
That event “changed me,” said Williams. He said he realized his life had to change and that he had to be willing to change.
He said his mother moved him to the home of his godfather who set curfews, discipline and required him to attend church “two or three times a week”. Williams got involved in sports which also motivated him to achieve in the classroom.
He went on to graduate high school, play football for the Gamecocks and then on to the NFL.
“You have to realize when you go into the classroom, there may be something going on in their lives. They may be hungry. They may not have had any sleep,” said Williams.
He said Thomas “let me know that I could be more” than what he was experiencing, that his situation was not a set path.
“Don’t give up on those kids,” said Thomas. “Give them hope. They just want you to notice them.”