Christopher Thoms trades Chicago for U.P. culture… and SISU

The MRA Board welcomes members who have volunteered for various open positions this year. In this series of blog posts, we provide short interviews from some of these literacy educators.

Christopher Thoms is a seventh-grade ELA teacher in Marquette. This is his tenth year teaching, after spending five years teaching in Chicago. He loves to coach sports and run. He also enjoys going on hikes, playing and watching sports, and hanging with his wife and two dogs. He finished my Masters in Instruction from NMU this past August and hopes to earn an Ed Specialist at some point down the road. As 2020-21 gets underway, he is excited for a challenging, yet unique and intriguing, school year!

What was your childhood like?  

The first 7 years of my life were spent in flux moving from Florida to Detroit to Chicago and back to Florida again. I went to 6 different schools from K-8, and finally settled at Lane Tech High School in Chicago, where I played volleyball and baseball, studied journalism, and danced with our Irish Club.

Name some of your favorite books while growing up.

I grew up reading the Boxcar Children and Berenstain Bears series! I developed an affinity for the Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Divergent series as well. I also love to watch people rap to Dr. Seuss books on Youtube, even today!

You chose education as a career. Which people or events most influenced you to choose teaching?

I had two teachers in high school — Mr. Gagliano and Mr. Harris — who taught me how to teach while having fun.

Mr. Gagliano had a 10-minute magic show to start class every Friday before we took a quiz, and it really helped calm our nerves and showed me that teachers are humans and can have fun.

Mr. Harris was fundamental in helping develop my appreciation for teaching, media, and journalism. I served on our high school’s newspaper with Mr. Harris as my guide and mentor, and learned to love journalistic writing.

What are some of your more memorable teaching experiences?

My first year teaching was in Chicago Public Schools. We went on strike 7 days into my career, for two weeks. At the end of that year, CPS had closed 51 schools in the largest public school closure in American history, and my school was one of them. Talk about a start to my first year!

After that, I settled at another Chicago school and really broadened my horizons — I coached cross country, softball, baseball, track and field; also, I ran student council, the podcast club, hosted all the school dances, planned Physics Day at Great America, and was the graduation planner (in Chicago, all schools are K-8, so the eighth graders get to graduate!).

I’ve been in the U.P. teaching for 5 years now, and love the change of pace and the potential for outdoor learning we have here.

How did you find the Michigan Reading Association?

I became the SCECH Coordinator for our local Marquette-Alger Reading Council, and one of the board members, Andrea, told me about an opening. I don’t have kids of my own yet, so I wanted to welcome new challenges while I have the opportunity!

You represent Region 1 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. What are the unique challenges and opportunities in your area?

In our region, we teach all students from all socioeconomic backgrounds in the same classrooms; everyone comes to our middle school as we as language arts teachers are the only one around. We teach students who live on farms, live in condos on the lake, and everything in between. We teach students who travel the world and who’ve never left the UP. One thing I will say about my students is that I love to hear their stories and they’ve taught me so much about U.P. culture and sisu*.

  • A colloquialism up here in the U.P. Sisu is a unique Finnish concept. It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as “strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.” A lot of Yoopers are descendants of Finns that moved here in the mining days. So, you will see bumper stickers all over the UP with SISU on them.

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