Draeger-Thomas_MainIt’s not often that a novice teacher wins South Bend Community School Corporation’s Teacher of the Year award. It’s even less common for a nontraditional teacher to win the award. But Carol Draeger Thomas ’10 has done just that.

A journalist-turned-educator, Draeger Thomas frequently had thoughts about becoming a teacher, but she just as frequently dismissed them.

In 1999, she looked into a transition to teaching program in Milwaukee, but she put the idea aside, fearing she would miss journalism. After moving to South Bend in 2000 to pursue a job as a reporter for the South Bend Tribune, Draeger Thomas looked into many schools, none of which offered transition programs at the time. It wasn’t until around 2007 that she began hearing of transition programs in the area.

In 2009, amidst rough economic times at the Tribune, Draeger Thomas enrolled in Bethel’s Transition to Teaching Program.

“I worked full-time at the Tribune, plus part-time at Macy’s and went to Bethel full-time at night,” says Draeger Thomas. “Honestly, I don’t know how I did it. But I can tell you that Bethel’s computer lab, which is open until midnight most nights, saved me.”

Draeger Thomas-teaching

Draeger Thomas teaches as Rise Up Academy at Eggleston.

Less than three months after graduating, Draeger Thomas was offered a job at Rise Up Academy at Eggleston, South Bend Community School Corporation’s nontraditional high school, teaching English. It was Draeger Thomas’ peers at Rise Up Academy who first nominated her for Teacher of the Year during the 2013-2014 school year.

“It was very validating as a teacher because often as a new teacher you sometimes wonder whether you’re doing things ‘right,’” says Draeger Thomas of her nomination. “I always have to tell myself that if kids are reading, comprehending and engaged, it’s right. If they are showing critical thinking skills, then it’s a home run. When they are being creative and applying critical thinking skills, then it’s a homerun with the bases loaded.”

Amid doubts of winning, Draeger Thomas continued with the nomination process and completed the portfolio, which ultimately determines the winner.

“It was shocking because I thought my portfolio was different, my students are different, my route to being a teacher was different and I am different,” she says. “And I was, and my students were, being rewarded for that uniqueness.”

Six years ago, Draeger Thomas walked into Bethel as a journalist with hopes of becoming a teacher. This decision has made her a “highly effective teacher.”

“[Bethel] gave me a strong base in knowing what effective teaching is,” she says. “It gave me the critical thinking skills to know that through reflection and self-analysis and self-awareness, and through seeking help from others, one can always improve.”

Draeger Thomas has recently re-enrolled at Bethel to obtain her Administrator License.

“My future plans are iffy right now,” she says. “If I take more classes I would obtain a Master’s in Education. I may do that and then go on to obtain my Ph.D.”

Whatever she ends up doing, one thing, is certain: she will continue to impact the lives of students through her compassion and commitment to her vocation.