This teacher stands weekly in front of her class and sees more than teenage faces. She sees lessons to be learned.
Former Aiken County teacher Mary Endres Thomas revisits these lessons in her debut book, “Kids These Days: A Teacher’s Inspirational Journey That Will Change The Way You Think About Today’s Youth.”
Thomas started teaching 40 years ago at a middle school in Charleston, W. Va. After more than 10 years there, she moved to Aiken with her husband. More than half her teaching career was spent teaching math at Silver Bluff High School. She currently works at Evans High School.
“Every summer, before a new school year began, I would pray that God would send me the students that He wanted me to have. Therefore, each one of you (my students) is an answer to a prayer,” she writes in her book.
Along the way, she also has held other positions.
“I have estimated that I have taught, coached and/or been club advisor to over 7,000 students,” she added.
“Kids These Days” tells just ones of thousands of stories she has heard.
“Whether your name is mentioned in this book or not, you have been a tremendous inspiration and blessing to me,” she continues to write.
She has met students from troubled backgrounds, students from blessed backgrounds, students with ailments and students just finding their lives’ paths. One of those students is Silver Bluff graduate Emily Zimmermann.
Zimmermann was barely in high school, when she developed a brain tumor. Months later, she lost her sight. Thomas’ interactions and relationship with Zimmermann led the new author to start her book. With the encouragement of her family, Thomas got to work mentally scanning through the files of her past.
Thomas decided the best way she could get started was to start at her beginning. The book’s first words read, “This was new to me.” These words led into a scene where Thomas was sitting outside a middle school’s principal’s office. Thomas, then a fresh college graduate, was at the school for a job interview. Spoilers – she landed the job.
The students Thomas discusses come from each school she’s worked at. However, when she decided to tell their stories, a problem arose. She hadn’t spoken to a good number of them in years. To solve this problem, Thomas took to the internet and her current connections.
One such student she found is a man named Twon Hickson. When they first met, Hickson was an aloof student who often took a spot in the back.
“I wasn’t certain if he was even awake,” Thomas wrote about this first encounter.
This formerly distant student later went on to graduate high school and enlist in the U.S. Marines. When Thomas finally found Hickson, she showed him his chapter.
“‘I can’t believe you wrote about me,’” Thomas recalled him saying.
She responded, “Well, Twon, you just touched my heart, and I wanted to share that with you.”
Thomas contacted each student she wrote about. Each student got to read his or her story. Some went so far as to add their own commentaries. Those words help finish Thomas’ book.
“I was that low-key student sitting in the back of the classroom, doing only what I needed to pass a class ... Instead of my reservations keeping them at a distance, it ended up wanting Mrs. Thomas and others in the class to know more about me,” Hickson wrote.
Each student’s picture accompanies his or her words. The book itself serves as a teaching tool.
“When people say, ‘Kids these days,’ it is usual negative,” Thomas noted. “This (book) is a different twist.”
“Kids These Days” will not be nationally released until April 24. Thomas has already arranged signings and presentations.
• March 21: Zimmermann, along with Troy Williamson, will speak at the Carolinas District Key Club Convention in Durham, NC. A signing will follow this presentation; another signing is scheduled for the following morning. Parts of the proceeds from these book sales will go towards The Boys and Girls Home. Williamson is one student featured in Thomas’ book. Key Club International is a series of service programs; Thomas advised the one at Silver Bluff High School.
• March 23: Zimmermann, Williamson and Thomas will be at the United Bethel Methodist Church in Jackson starting at 6 p.m. There will be a cookout, a presentation and book signing.
• April 26: Thomas will be at Aiken’s Which Wich starting at 10 a.m. Part of the proceeds will go towards Williamson’s Fighting Against the O.D.D.S. foundation.
• May 3: Thomas will be at H. Odell Weeks Activities Center following the Lupus Walk. The event is organized by Jade Nealious, who is also mentioned in Thomas’ book. Nealious owns the Crowing Lupus foundation. Part of Thomas’ earnings that day will go towards this organization.
Nealious was diagnosed with lupus while in high school.
“Before my diagnosis, I did not appreciate many of the simple things that God had blessed me with. However, when your life is constantly being tested, you begin to look at the world differently,” she wrote in Thomas’ book.
The stories Thomas recounts are not the last ones that need to be told. For this reason, the author invites others to share their stories.
If you want to tell your story or have further questions, email Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thomas is not done with writing either.
“I do have a couple of more ideas for additional books,” she said. “I’m going to have to wait until things settle down a little bit from this first book.”
For more information on the author, visit www.kidsthesedays.tateauthor.com.
“Kids These Days” is available from its publisher’s website: www.tatepublishing.com.
Stephanie Turner graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012. She then signed on with the Aiken Standard, where she is now the arts and entertainment reporter.