‘Always wanted to be a teacher’

Published 8:36 pm Monday, March 12, 2012

Deran Whitney, Suffolk Public Schools superintendent, presents a gift basket to 2012 Teacher of the Year Keysha Thomas. She teaches kindergarten at Northern Shores Elementary School.

When she was the age her students are now, Keysha Thomas dreamed of becoming a teacher.

“I can remember as a little girl, I always wanted to be a teacher,” Thomas said. “I can remember coming home from school and playing school. I would line my dolls up and teach them.”

Thomas credited a string of excellent elementary school teachers with her desire to become an educator herself. When she began working in the Suffolk Public Schools central office as a human resources secretary while attending Norfolk State University at night, she met many more inspiring educators who motivated her to continue along that career path.

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“They all kind of influenced me to go into education,” she said.

Their influence paid off. Thomas, a kindergarten teacher at Northern Shores Elementary School, recently was honored as the Teacher of the Year in Suffolk Public Schools.

“It is such an honor,” she said of the award. “There are so many excellent educators in the system. I’m just so honored and blessed to be chosen.”
Thomas has been teaching at Northern Shores for 15 years. She is no stranger to citywide recognition — in her first year, she was recognized as the Rookie Teacher of the Year.

As she has grown, so have nearly a generation of students.

“My classroom motto is, ‘I can do it,’” she said. “I don’t accept ‘I can’t.’ From when they come in September to when they leave in June, you see so much growth, and that’s very rewarding.”

Thomas said her favorite subject to teach is reading, because that is where the students’ growth over time is most visible. In the fall, she starts out by teaching the sounds of individual letters, and by the time spring rolls around, most students are reading books.

“It’s very rewarding,” she said.

Thomas said one of the challenges of teaching kindergarten is training students who have never been in a classroom setting before how to behave.

“It’s all new,” she said. “If they’ve never been to any kind of school setting, it’s a big challenge. But I greet them at the door and give them that same love they get at home. Once they get acclimated to the routine, they’re really good.”

Thomas’ principal, Tara Moore, described Thomas as a role model for other educators.

Parents of former students are also full of praise. Stuart Littlejohn, who had two sons in Thomas’ class, wrote: “Although my wife and I would love to take full credit for their success, the reality is that Ms. Thomas planted and watered the seeds of creativity, confidence and competence in these young men during their first year of formal education. She is the gold standard against which they have measured all their subsequent teachers and, for the record, none have supplanted her.”

Thomas, who graduated from Lakeland High School, has two children of her own, ages 19 and 10.

Also in her 15th year of teaching, Hope Bradshaw was named the 2012 Middle School Teacher of the Year. She teaches sixth-grade history at King’s Fork Middle School.

Principal Jennifer Presson said Bradshaw makes the lessons relevant to her pupils.

“Instead of merely delivering content to students, she has taken her students on a journey through time,” Presson said. Bradshaw often dresses as historical characters and leads re-enactments of events.

Bradshaw also is a product of Suffolk Public Schools, having graduated from Suffolk High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Virginia Wesleyan College.

Mark Parsons was named the 2012 High School Teacher of the Year. Now in his 10th year in the classroom, he teaches science at King’s Fork High School.

Principal Suzanne Moore complimented Parsons for his skills ranging from motivating at-risk freshmen to challenging International Baccalaureate students. He teaches earth science, oceanography, IB environmental systems and societies, and Freshman Academy.

His colleagues praised his enthusiasm and work ethic. He also coaches soccer and volleyball. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Old Dominion University.

Brandon Hamby, a technology education teacher at King’s Fork High School, was named the 2012 Rookie Teacher of the Year. He instructs computer animation, architectural drawing, engineering design and communication systems.

His colleagues describe him as enthusiastic, innovative and dedicated. He reinvented the Technology Student Association and sponsors the Key Club.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Old Dominion University.