Jason Cyr ’07 was worried about his kids losing a hands-on experience when Waterville Junior High School’s “shop” class was going out of style. He put his head together with another science teacher to come up with a solution.
“The woods. The outdoors. That’s my niche. So, I decided that I wanted to start a forestry class,” said Jason. “I wrote the curriculum and presented it to the principal.” She was on board.
So, Jason tried it out two years ago for the first time. After presenting to the school board and at different conferences, it morphed into something huge. Kids love it. And, this past school year was his second year offering the class.
Jason is a Registered Maine Guide.
His students often spend the class period in the woods behind the Waterville Junior High, completing field assessments and observing the trees and other plant life. They wear bright orange construction hats and vests and take notes on clipboards.
Jason said the kids love being outside in nature. It gives them time to get away from the traditional desk time and learn about the outdoors. And it makes science fun.
Shortly after graduating from Waterville Senior High School, Jason enlisted in the Army. He spent six years serving. When he came home, the job market for soldiers was slim. He took a job at the Kennebec County Jail and stayed for about ten years.
Then, he received a letter from the Army stating that he needed to take advantage of the GI bill or he would lose that benefit.
So, he started looking in the area for a college to attend. He loves kids, so he thought teaching might be a good option.
When he went to check out Thomas College, meeting with professor Wally Alexander sold him.
“The education program at Thomas was very tailored to my specific needs. Wally was a great advisor. He made sure that I took all the required courses – but also a variety, not just one focus area,” he said. “The class size was not a big lecture hall. All my professors knew me, and I knew them. I could email Wally at 9 o’clock at night and get an email back at 9:15. And, I’m really happy to say that we’ve been able to keep that relationship, 11 years after graduation.”
During a typical day as a Waterville Junior High School teacher, Jason gets to work around 6:45 a.m. He starts his second pot of coffee, and he gets the board, tables, and chairs ready for the kids. If they are doing a lab that day, he preps the lab. Jason has homeroom first thing; then, during period one, he teaches English/Language Arts. Next period, he teaches Biology; next up is the Forestry Class. Period 4 is lunchtime; and, for the last periods, he teaches Biology again. He ends the day with meetings or lab clean up.
Jason loves teaching junior-high-aged students because they keep things interesting, and he’s able to use humor and sarcasm in his classes.
“I love this age group because they are not in high school, so they really haven’t made up their minds about how they are going to be and what they are going to do.”
Jason said he knew teaching was for him through field placements while attending Thomas College and that it is one of those things that you have inside of you.
“You really have to be able to connect with kids and like kids before you can even think of teaching them,” said Jason. “You know you’re meant to be a teacher, or you know you’re not meant to do it right away.”
Jason said Thomas College prepared him for his career by sending him out into the field. He said he can see that Thomas is still doing a great job with teaching teachers, when they are placed in his classroom as student teachers.
“I really feel that the student teachers that I’ve gotten from Thomas, compared to some of the other colleges, are better. You can see that there is a passion with the faculty for the profession, and that shines through with the student teachers who come ready to go into the profession,” he said.
Jason’s 12-year-old daughter wants to be a teacher, too, when she grows up.
“I’ve already paved the way with her by mentioning Thomas College a lot – talking about how great the class size is, and again the professors’ general appreciation and passion for the profession. Hands down, students looking to study education should chose to attend Thomas College.”