What makes Ed Thomas a great instructor

Chase Austin, Reporter

While standing outside Ed Thomas’s office, there was an undertone of one who excelled in their craft. The hallway decorated with quips about communication, snipped from newspapers throughout his 13-year career here at Lake Land College. Notices, information and instructions for students posted with care, an ensemble of brightly colored paper only an educator would take the time in organizing. And accolades of past and present students to pass through that very hall adorned the wall. From classroom 131 behind me, a round of laughter rang out from behind the closed-door, and shortly after that, students ambled their way out single file to their next class. Trailing along behind them was Ed Thomas, a member of the humanities division, here at Lake Land College. He greeted me, and into his office we sat down. There was a cookie on his desk, left by a mystery student or faculty member as a gift. My intention quickly shifted to find out why students enjoy his class so much and Thomas replied, “I’ve always tried to teach with a Socratic method. Try to keep it back and forth. Rather than me talking and them listening, I try to make it a conversation between me and the class. So I’m facilitating a discussion about the topic rather than talking at them for 75 minutes. I think that as soon as you lose your audience, you may as well leave the room.”
We began talking about what he did before he was an instructor, where he went to school and why. Thomas had remarked, “I came to Lake Land for a couple years. I started as an art student, switched to journalism, and had no idea what to do.” Thomas’s sister at the time was into speech communications at the University of Illinois. He had friends going to Eastern Illinois University and decided to enter Eastern as a speech communications student. “I finished my undergraduate and then went into retail for a couple years. I decided I didn’t like what I was doing, and I felt like I wanted to know more… I applied to Eastern, got in and went back for grad school. That’s where I finished up.”
From there, Thomas made his way into education. It was clear he was no longer confused as to what he wanted to do. Thomas now owned two businesses, Bike & Hike in both Charleston, Ill. and Effingham, Ill., and 6 years ago had taken up powerlifting. Over these years, he felt that he had grown in his life as an educator. Thomas said, “The college requires faculty members to take part in staff development activities. I think that’s just a sliver of the growth. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much more of a reader. I read more now than I did in college. You can’t teach a speech class. You can’t really teach in the humanities, or even in computer sciences and not stay current. The examples that I use in speech class have got to be about making content relevant to audiences… I’m constantly learning. What I’ve seen change in the last few years is that the student body is very diverse. I get students here who are exceptionally academically gifted, and I get some students here that aren’t ready for a four-year college yet. When you have that intellectual cocktail in a classroom, it can make teaching very challenging. The span of intellectual capacity is so broad now. Should I teach to the lowest common denominator and bore the top? Or teach to the top and lose the bottom?”
The principle question I wished to know about Ed Thomas was what he was proud of in his career. I asked, “If you were to retire next year, and you look back on your experience here at Lake Land College, what would you describe as your best time?” Thomas replied, “What I’m most proud of at Lake Land College, and in every dimension of any job has good and bad. There are great students and challenging students. There’s rewarding class material, and there’s class material you just kind of have to get through. But the one thing that’s been thematic and consistent in my time here at the college is the resilience of the faculty. I’m not trying to brag on my peers, but, you know, we’re in a world that is rapidly changing. The demands on educators is rapidly changing. The student body is a fantastic group of students here at the college. I love the intellectual diversity, but the faculty here, some of my closest peers, have been instrumental in molding me as a person.”
And more than anything, Thomas had to add, “Visit your instructors during their office hours. Take advantage of office hours. It’s a great time to get some feedback.” Spoken like a true educator.

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