Sam Thompson, MAT '01 Epiphany in a Coffee Shop
By LeeAnn Kriegh '94
During Spring Break of his senior year at Oregon State University (OSU), Sam Thompson, MAT ’01 sat down in a coffee shop and opened up a textbook to study for the MCAT, the medical school entry exam.
Thompson, a biology major at OSU, planned to follow his father’s career path and become a physician, despite repeated cautions. “Several times he warned me that I needed to think about the lifestyle I was choosing,” Thompson recalled.
In the coffee shop, Thompson’s thoughts wandered from his studies. He started thinking again about his father – and about his brother, a teacher whose lifestyle appeared to offer greater balance between work and home. After nearly four years of college, something finally clicked.
Thompson said, “I closed my book, walked out of Starbucks and decided teaching was the route for me.” It was “one of those clearly defined moments,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I’m not sure how many I have, but that was one of them.”
It was too late in the year for Thompson to enter a graduate teaching program, so he joined AmeriCorps and – just months after walking out of the coffee shop – became a math tutor and football and track coach at Banks High School, near the Pacific campus.
“I was a little nervous initially, but somehow it just felt like it was the right fit going in, and I think that was validated the more I did the job. The kids were energizing and fun, which helped me know it was the right thing to be doing,” he said.
The AmeriCorps experience led Thompson to Pacific’s Alternative Pathways to Teaching (APT) Mathematics and Science program, where he earned his teaching license. The 18-month program, which is being replaced in January 2008 by the MAT/Flex program, combined coursework with a full school year as an instructor in his own classroom.
“It was a very intense year and a half,” Thompson said, “but it was perfect for someone who wants to teach but doesn’t want to – or can’t – take a year off from real life to do a regular teaching program. With this, you can take the year to get your certificate and get paid a stipend while you’re doing it.”
During his first year at Five Oaks Middle School in Beaverton, Ore., a fellow teacher as well as a supervisor from the APT program mentored Thompson. The added support helped, especially as he juggled evening classes with his teaching responsibilities.
“It was a big challenge, and sometimes very difficult,” he acknowledged, “but if you were to compare my year to a standard student-teaching experience, by far and away I had better experiences and insights to draw from. I gained a much more complete picture of the reality of teaching – that it’s a lot of hours, and that it’s not just about teaching but also the conferences and field trips and organizing and reading you have to do.”
After spending six years at Five Oaks, Thompson took a new teaching position last year at The International School of Beaverton, a magnet school that currently serves students in grades 6–9. “The environment here is exciting and fresh,” he said. “We’re building a new community where the education is pretty rigorous, and that’s accepted in this community. I like that.”
Experience has made him a better teacher, Thompson said. “The first lesson I learned pretty quickly is it’s OK to focus more on the kids than the content,” he said. “I’ve also become a lot more confident, and I’ve gotten better at knowing what’s important in the classroom educationally and what isn’t as important.”
Thompson acknowledged that the day he walked out of the coffee shop, he didn’t know just how time-intensive and challenging a career in teaching would be. It’s especially challenging now, as he and his wife, Rosalie Meyer Thompson, MAT ’00, a second-grade teacher, are raising a young daughter and newborn son.
“Teaching is a lot more work than I envisioned,” he admitted. “It’s probably also as rewarding as I envisioned, but it’s not teacher movies kind of rewarding. It’s just about your own personal rewards. And it is a pretty good lifestyle overall.”
To learn more about Pacific’s new MAT/Flex program, please go to: www.pacificu.edu/coe/