2016 Blackboard Award Honoree: Thomas Jones

Editor’s note: To read profiles of all 2016 Blackboard Awards honorees, click HERE!

Thomas Jones accepts his Blackboard Award. Photo by Karen Haberberg

Thomas Jones
Grades 9-12, English
NYC iSchool-H.S. 376

Tell us about some of the special joys and challenges you’ve experienced as a teacher.

What I love most about being a teacher is having the chance to work with young people with whom I might never cross paths otherwise; NYC iSchool reflects the world as it should be everywhere, each class and grouping of students reflecting a diversity of perspectives and opinions that helps us all to learn, grow, and challenge ourselves to be the best version of ourselves we can possibly be. I feel so fortunate to work in a place where kindness and understanding are the rule, not the exception, and dreams are as big as the minds that generate them.

Please share a special project or achievement that you are particularly proud of from this year.

This year, I conducted a major overhaul of my daily classroom practice, emphasizing the process of acquiring skills through two-week assessment cycles and extensive one-on-one conferencing. I eschewed homework almost entirely (aside from reading), seeking a greater immediacy in the work that was going on within the classroom. By de-emphasizing deadlines and out-of-class work, I spurred what I hope to be the beginnings of a pedagogical revolution at my school—a decisive movement away from traditional means of assessment and toward a more formative, routine measurement of what students can actually do.

Over the course of your career, what do you consider your greatest accomplishments?

Thomas Jones. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

A recent memory comes from last year’s graduation, where a student I’d had no connection with until the middle of her sophomore year, but who turned out to be extremely active in speech and debate for the last two years of her high school career, thanked me, in tears, for everything I had done for her. And it’s fair to say that this young woman is not, as a rule, demonstrative with her emotions. I’d had no idea that she felt so strongly about the role I played in her life, and I still don’t know that I deserve the credit she gave me, but it moved me tremendously.

What keeps you motivated and committed to being a dedicated and hard-working educator?

My absolute love for knowledge, for language, and for written expression. For theatre, and for speaking. For art! My passion for these things is eclipsed only by my daily opportunity to turn a light on in the minds of young people from across the city, hopefully igniting a similar excitement within each of them.