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Flexible Thomas learns on the fly

 Flexible Thomas learns on the fly 


By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 

Z. Thomas



Zach Thomas was given a teacher's manual when he graduated from UAFS some years ago. He applied everything he learned into becoming the best science teacher he could. 


Be on time, prepare lesson plans, treat every kid the same. Nothing to it. 


Ultimately, however, he soon discovered that teaching mirrors life and adjusting on the fly — whether it's 2010 or 2020. 


"When you come out of college, you have this mindset that they (professors) teach you how it's supposed to work, and then you get here and it's not how it works at all," Thomas said. "What I found is that you have to build relationships with students, to really be able to teach them and get them to the level they need to be at."  


Thomas could have become a truck broker with his dad, Chuck and brother Jeff, for Mule Barn Logistics, truck brokers, just north of Dean Springs. 


Instead, he does double-duty as a teacher — teaching five days a week at Alma High School and four nights a week at Arkansas Tech-Ozark. 


Thomas first became interested in teaching while in high school. Innocently enough, it began with a fishing lure. 


"I had Mrs. (Christina) Johnston for Geometry when I was in high school," Thomas said. "She went on a fishing trip and was gone a couple of weeks, and we (students) had to teach the classes. We had a section we were supposed to become the expert on and teach that. I was like, 'This is what I really want to do!' 


"That's really what did it."


Seventeen years after graduating from Alma High School in the spring of 2003, Thomas turns the key to his room each morning with the same vision he had while learning to become a teacher.


"I like asking questions and then trying to find an answer," Thomas said. "That's really where I got the love for what l do. I've always had an interest in science; ever since I was little I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. But guess what? We're in Arkansas, and there are no oceans.


"But then I was like let's teach science; let's teach kids how to question things."


Thomas has learned what buttons to push with kids, all of whom are different. 


"You have to do whatever it takes to get them to be where they need to be," he said.


Given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 landscape, Thomas wasn't sure how long schools would be open during the 2020-21 school calendar year.


By mid-November, however, it's still business as usual. 


"Most of us in the science department, we're data nerds, so when we look at stuff we like to look at all the numbers and look at everything," Thomas said. "We all thought we'd be out of school right at the start of September.


"Now, here we are sitting in November and everything is fine."


Thomas believes the most prevalent danger to students happens outside of school. "It's who they are in the most contact with," he said. 


Inside the school, however, it's mostly been a different ballgame.


"Our students are doing really well with wearing masks," Thomas said. "They tend to group when they get the opportunity, so you have to remind them every once in a while to separate. 


"But I pretty much have a different student in every class who will come in and spray the desks before the next class gets here."


Thomas allows kids to spread out, even if that means sitting alone in the hallway.


"They can go and sit in my lab at a lab table, too," he said. "I have kids that go sit in the hallway. If they (students) don't feel comfortable, then let's do what we need to do. Everything in my classroom is in google classroom, so they just pull it up and there it is.


"When I'm teaching, if I have a google remote for that hour, that way if I have a kid doing remote they can log in while I'm teaching, so that way I'm teaching them while I'm teaching the rest of the class."


Like other teachers throughout the world, last spring's COVID shutdown meant figuring out how to teach through the lens of his laptop. 


"The main thing is to be flexible," Thomas said. "A lot of it is we (teachers) don't know exactly what's going on in the lives of the kids because we don't get to see them every day. I hate to say this, but they're a name on a screen. If they don't share that information, or if you don't see that they're hurting or that they're struggling, then you really don't know. 


"I've learned to be flexible with everybody and give them the benefit of the doubt because they couldn't get it done or their Internet wasn't working, and to approach everything with grace."


Thomas, who received his masters from Montana State (2014), taught at Kimmons for three years, Northside one, and is in his ninth year at AHS.