You know you have a great teacher when what he or she taught you follows you long after you leave the classroom. Some Sioux Falls students say that’s exactly why their Latin teacher is so special. Lynn Thomason is somewhat of an icon at Lincoln High School. This week, she’s celebrating a big achievement. On Monday, the Sioux Falls School District awarded her the 2019 Dr. John W. Harris Teacher of the Year.
Following the ceremony, we got to know her in her classroom. Even if you don’t speak the language, Thomason will make sure you’re not lost in translation. Latin is how Thomason teaches her students their greatest lesson, which is to work harder until they succeed.
“We talk about the Latin word potens, which means what are you able to do? And it gives us the English word for potential,” Thomason said.
“I think it’s really important what she fosters in her classroom and it helps us grow into the people we’re meant to be,” Josephine Dal, student, said.
“Her classes definitely prepared me for the rest of the world. The best out of all my classes,” Mitch Eichacker, student, said.
That’s why these students nominated Thomason, whom they call T-Mo, for Teacher of the Year.
The real world is full of disappointment, though. That’s why Thomason warned her students to brace themselves for a losing night. After all, before this, she’s been nominated not once, twice, but three times and didn’t make it to the top spot.
Perhaps that is what made the moment when school board president Kent Alberty read “T-Mo” during the award announcement. Her students erupted in a long round of applause.
“To the other finalists. Thank you so much and congratulations for being a finalist. Hang in there, because your fourth time might be the charm, too,” Thomason said.
In addition to the title, Thomason earned a $4,000 check. Thomason has taught Latin for about 15 years, and is the only Latin teacher in the Sioux Falls School District. She estimates she’s guided more than 1,000 students.
“I have physicians who have been my students. I have three little girls who are named after me and so the kids come back after college and it’s just wonderful,” Thomason said.
Several of her current students wrote letters of support for Thomason in the nomination for this award. 30 of them showed up to the ceremony to honor her.
“There’s no greater night than this. There’s no greater moment than to have that kind of support from your students and to have them have their joy,” Thomason said.
Come to think of it, her students may be more thrilled about this than the actual winner.
“I was really nervous. I was sitting over there and I just knew how much she deserved it,” Mitch said.
“She’s really been my rock,” Josephine said.
You’ve met Josephine before. The young woman applied for a scholarship and recently found out she’ll have a full ride at Vanderbilt University. Josephine says she used to hide her achievements.
“Being a black woman in predominantly white school, I didn’t want to be othered or singled out,” Josephine said.
That’s changed. Josephine says Thomason helped her apply for the QuestBridge National Match Scholarship and taught her never to be ashamed of the success she’s earned.
“T-Mo, she just, through Latin, allows us to be ourselves and translate the way we want and tells us it’s ok to — just to do things a different way and to be different,” Josephine said.
“You just don’t know what’s going to happen. Some of these kids will face incredible trials and tribulations, others will have huge successes and you just want them to feel good, to feel loved. You want them to feel supported,” Thomason said.
Which brings us back to the word potens. It’s a valuable lesson Lynn Thomason teaches her students. After all, potential on its own is all well and good, but it’s worthless unless you have a teacher — or in this case, teacher of the year — to show you how to unlock it.
“What is your potential? Not only in my classroom, but outside of my classroom. In ten years, what is your potential and what problems you are going to be solving and how are you going to make the world a better place?” Thomason said.