Position: Math Teacher
School: Carrollton High School
School District: Carrollton City Schools
City, State: Carrollton, GA
Thomas Keith was nominated by his colleague, Laurie Fleck
Mr. Keith's personal journey is what he attributes to his success as a teacher. Having grown up in a single parent, poverty stricken home and witnessing the daily struggles of family members and neighbors due to lack of education, Mr. Keith recognized the important of an education early on. Relatives often spoke of getting an education, but did not or could not articulate its importance to having a successful future. Their background excluded higher education, so they stressed finishing high school to prepare for work in industry.
Mr. Keith has said his education came from teachers, coaches, and principals. These pivotal role models took him in, a student considered “at-risk” by most, and encouraged him to dream of a brighter world. They reached out to a child who didn't know his potential, and gave him the guidance and advice on how to cultivate what they saw. These same mentors challenged him to dream big and see the possibilities. Being the first in his family to attend college, Mr. Keith realized there was more to life than factory work.
As a teacher, his personal journey is a constant reminder that students come from various walks of life. Mr. Keith is always mindful that teaching is a lifestyle that extends beyond classroom walls and school hours. He routinely can be found visiting students, providing encouragement, and in the In-School Suspension Classroom during his planning period. When asked why he does this, he states that he does so because someone did the same for him.
Mr. Keith's teacher hat holds many titles such as advisor, provider, friend, father figure, to name a few. Recognizing that not all of his students have the desire to attend college, he encourages them to pursue areas that interest them, whether it be entrepreneur, hair stylist, plant supervisor or welder, as long as it provides a better life on the right path.
At various times, Mr. Keith says he wonders how hopeless he must have seemed to people who mentored him as a child. They saw potential in him and did not give up, even when he did not give his best. Because of their persistence, Mr. Keith tries to recognize every achievement in his students, no matter how big or small. He also provides support, both inside and outside of the classroom. At the start of every class, Mr. Keith gives his class a “Daily Nugget” of life stories that allow his students to see and hear his success story, despite a background similar to many of theirs.
Mr. Keith feels his greatest contributing factor to teaching is his ability to relate to all types of kids on various levels. He allows them to see that situations of poverty, single parent homes, drugs, and abuse do not have to define them. He routinely tells his students, "We may look different, come from different backgrounds and deal with varying problems, but inside we are all the same; we have feelings, want to feel valued and for someone to care about us."
Mr. Keith was a student athlete and graduate of Central Michigan University, and later received his Masters in Education from University of West Georgia. In addition to serving as a leader in the classroom, Mr. Keith serves as a leader to peers as the Algebra Support Lead Teacher, and a New Teacher Mentor at Carrollton High School. He has also served as a mentor for F.U.T.U.R.E, which stands for Fellows United To Uplift and Reshape Each Other. Mr. Keith has received the Carrollton High School Teacher of The Year in 2017, and the Golden Apple Award in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 for his dedication and heartfelt commitment to meeting the needs of a diverse group of learners. He was also awarded Carrollton High School Teacher of the Month in 2009, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and Basketball Region Assistant Coach Of The Year in 2015 and 2016.
Mr. Keith's educational philosophy is demonstrated in his teaching style, and some may say that his teaching style is a bit eccentric.
"It isn't uncommon to hear him teaching from the other end of the hall, but when you walk in his classroom, the environment is electrified and his students are engaged," Fleck said. "He believes in group discussions and students cultivating their own ideas, as they begin to unwrap misunderstood layers of math. His classroom is student-driven, and he commonly uses humor to engage his students. Mr. Keith requires his students to be engaged so that they always feel they are included and represented in all conversations surrounding their education."
“You can’t go wrong when you hire someone like Thomas Keith," said David Brooks, CHS principal. "This guy is special. He is a great motivator and works hard to develop relationships with all kids.”
Mr. Keith teaches coordinate algebra, which is considered one of the most challenging courses for many high school students. His loud-but-loving, enthusiastic style resonates with all students, but especially students who struggle with math. On the Georgia Milestones statewide testing platform, Mr. Keith’s coordinate algebra students outperformed the state average all three years the test has been administered.
"Whether inside or outside the classroom, Thomas Keith is a true LifeChanger at Carrollton High School and in his broader community," Fleck said.
Mr. Keith says "I always teach my kids the power of one,” referring not to a mathematical exponent but to the individual sense of responsibility and commitment.
“All I want to do is sow a seed, and I tell my kids, I don’t know how long when the water hits the seed, but I know one thing – the seeds that I sow into those kids will sprout up and bloom into a flower," said Keith.