By Mary Waggoner
This year’s Notre Dame Alumni Association Outstanding Educator Award recipient is C. Scott Thomas ’99, ’01 M.Ed.
Each year the NDAA recognizes an alumnus who has excelled in the elementary or secondary classroom for at least five years. Nominees must be considered outstanding classroom teachers who have modeled competency and character to students and their colleagues and provided service to their schools and/or the profession.
The award, established in 1996, was presented to Thomas during this year’s NDAA Excellence in Teaching Conference, Oct. 25-27.
After graduating with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, Thomas started teaching at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, FL while simultaneously enrolling in the Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Service through Teaching Program. The ACE Program is a two-year service program offering college graduates the opportunity to serve as full-time teachers in under-resourced Catholic schools while earning a Master of Education.
Fast forward 14 years and Thomas continues to teach high school science at Bishop Kenny. He also serves as the head coach of the girls’ soccer team.
“Enrolling in ACE and getting into teaching is what I felt I was called to do. I truly love that ACE uses Christ as the model teacher and provides so many amazing resources to help ensure the success of its student teachers,” said Thomas.
In recommending him for the award, Bishop Kenny Principal Todd Orlando noted that Thomas is one of the most versatile members of the faculty, having successfully moved from teaching one science curriculum to another.
“[My] first big challenge was switching from primarily teaching chemistry, which I taught for the first six years of my career, to primarily teaching physics. The same year that happened, I also became the head coach of the girls' soccer team and married my wife, Stephanie.”
The year their son, Dillon, was born, Thomas undertook his second biggest challenge. He switched his teaching style to Modeling Instruction, where students learn through labs and group discussions.
“Over the last few years, I've [adjusted] my style of teaching based on action research strategies, mainly the results of Physics Education Research (PER)…specifically, Peer Instruction by Eric Mazur and Modeling Instruction by David Hestenes and the rest of the modeling community, ” said Thomas.
Thomas started a blog in 2011 in which he details curriculum notes for other physics teachers. The blog title, Salt The Oats (Because they won’t just drink the water) summarizes Thomas’ teaching philosophy. Referencing the old English proverb, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,’ Thomas writes, “Maybe we shouldn’t be thinking of something that will pull our students along, but rather something that will make them want to be an active learner. You can’t force a horse to drink the water, but you can salt the oats.”
His teaching style works, as evidenced by the success of his AP Physics students, who have an impressive 92% pass rate average.
When asked to what he attributes his students’ success, Thomas said, “The simple answer is the amazing work ethic of my students. I explicitly tell them on the first day that my goal for the class is that the easiest day of the year should be the day they take the actual AP test.”
Thomas’ acceptance speech was in the form of a letter to his son. The speech concluded, “Dillon, when you’re old enough to read this, I can only hope that you realize that God has a plan for you too. Have the courage to be open to the amazing people that enter your life, so they, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can help guide you along your path. Most importantly, take time to enjoy the steps along the way, as I’m sure God has a plan for you to experience your own amazing ride.”