John Thomas is a self-proclaimed word nerd. Words seem to be the focus of most everything Thomas has accomplished in his career, and are at the front and center of his choir lessons as a new teacher at Battle Ground Public Schools.
On a recent day in his eighth grade choir class at Chief Umtuch Middle School, Thomas wrote a Latin phrase on the whiteboard and asked his students to interpret what it meant. The class had just sang a song with the phrase as its title, and Thomas wanted his students to understand its meanings and origin so they can develop their own appreciation for words and music. "The union of music and language is a real draw for me," Thomas said. "I love reading beautifully written words set to beautiful music."
Thomas splits his position as a music specialist between Chief Umtuch Middle and Captain Strong Primary schools, teaching students about the convergence of words and music. Battle Ground Public Schools has 17 music specialists across the district who teach a range of band, choir and primary music classes. Six of the positions are supported by levy dollars.
Thomas, who has been teaching private music lessons since he was 15 years old, has bachelor's degrees in music performance and music education from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and a master's degree in music from Portland State University. At Portland he studied vocal music, composition and choral conducting.
After graduating with his master's degree, Thomas taught music and a few other subjects for a year at Park Academy, a private school in Lake Oswego for kids who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But when the school's enrollment dipped and his hours decreased, he sought another certificated position.
Thomas attended an education job fair last spring where he turned his resume into several districts, including Battle Ground Public Schools. He had heard about the many arts programs at schools across the river in Washington, and knew Battle Ground by its reputation for executing on a solid jazz program. Thomas interviewed with other districts in the region, but in the end he chose to work in Battle Ground. "We are lucky to have him" said Chief Umtuch Principal Beth Beattie, "He is a talented teacher across all grade levels."
Thomas embraces a growth mindset. His love of language was the impetus for him learning to speak Russian and Persian. He also wrote a book called Music in Minutes: The Recorder. He is hoping that this exposure plus his experience as a freelance writer in New York City covering education and community news will assist him in his next endeavor: writing and arranging his own songs. "I would like to compose for middle school and bring in my own arrangements," Thomas said. "I like teaching young people. I like the kind of teaching that challenges me to grow and get better."
After school, Thomas practices his craft professionally. He is a freelance musician in Portland, often subbing as a drummer with jazz bands. He also plays the piano and sings. When it's his ear that he is treating to music, he enjoys listening to jazz for the rhythms and rock and roll and folk music for the lyrics. "I'm really drawn to music with words."