Darrell Thomas is the fine arts dance teacher and economics teacher for the Richmond Virtual School, the online secondary school for the Richmond School District. She started this online dance program for the Richmond School District three years ago, and it has grown exponentially to the extent that it is now a half-time position. She began this program to give students flexibility in their learning, and realized very early on that there are multiple ways of earning graduation credits, including ways that are not restricted to taking courses in a brick-and-mortar building. She is passionate about promoting individualized learning, as emphasized in the new BC educational curriculum. This is exemplified by her commitment to helping her dance students receive fine arts graduation credits. The students, who all dance a minimum of 100 hours per year, take her online dance courses in conjunction with their studio dance requirements. She has also taught an Economics 12 hybrid course, which was partially online with a weekly face-to-face component. The hybrid nature of the course helped prepare her students for future university requirements, especially as online integration with education continues to grow.Specialized, flexible, and individualized learning are pillars for the new BC educational curriculum, and Darrell’s fine arts dance program incorporates all of these factors for the ever-changing educational landscape for the teens of today and tomorrow.
What is your most memorable experience from your time in the Faculty of Education?
My time at UBC in the Faculty of Education was a brief one-year program for secondary education. I recall being greatly encouraged by my faculty advisors, but most specifically, my Business Education faculty advisor. She helped me gain confidence as a student teacher despite being only 22 and teaching students up to 19 years of age. Being a young female teacher in a traditionally male-dominated teaching area was a bit intimidating, but she really helped me see the big picture when it came to teaching. I learned not to get lost in all the details, despite them seeming overwhelming at first. It was also wonderful having my practicum at Steveston Secondary in Richmond, because all of my sponsor teachers were very supportive of my abilities and believed that I could teach effectively to grade 10–12 students.
Where has your education from the Faculty of Education taken you in your career?
After I earned my Bachelor of Education from UBC, my first teaching job was at Steveston Secondary, where I taught an alternative program for students who had not been successful in the traditional Dogwood Diploma program. This specialized program was called Pre-Employment because it was a combined studies program. It focused on academics, but students were also assigned work placements 40% of the time all around Richmond. From this program, students gained valuable employment experience that helped them eventually enter the workforce after completing this program. I then taught eight years at Cambie Secondary School, teaching primarily business education and physical education. I took the lead in teaching the dance curriculum within the physical education courses that I taught. After taking several years off due to having three children, I next joined Traditional Learning Academy, a Christian independent school, where I learned online education and taught fine arts dance courses as well as multiple business courses. Finally, I took my newly developed online skills back to the Richmond School District and developed the online fine arts dance program for the District. I also have taught Planning 10 online and most recently Economics 12 both online and face-to-face.
Where do issues of inclusion find a place in your life or at work?
I deeply value every one of my students. In my face-to-face meetings with my economics students, I really focus on leading discussions about larger global topics and how to relate to these topics as an individual. My students are taught to care for one another as I do for them. Being a devout Christian, I want my students to feel safe in my classes and to have a voice. Even when students may disagree with comments made by other students, fostering an environment of care and respect for one another has always been very important to me.
Do you have any words of wisdom for current students? Newly graduated folks?
As for advice for current or newly graduated students, teaching is a wonderful profession and it takes a lot out of people to be an effective educator. Remember to set boundaries around work and life. Teaching can become all-consuming, so remember to not sweat all the small details; instead, keep your focus on the big picture. Students that you will teach will not remember all the content that you will teach them, but they will remember teachers who are caring, willing to listen, approachable, and kind. That being said, set out strict guidelines at the beginning, because you are the educator and kids need boundaries in order to thrive. Be fair and consistent, but most of all, avoid picking favourites. Every student has strengths, and your challenge is to try to find those strengths and foster them. Education provides a great medium for you to influence the minds of tomorrow, so do your best to encourage your students to think beyond themselves—as the Bible says, to love your neighbour as yourself. Think of others first, and you will go far.