UHCL alum is Teacher of the Year: 'What matters most is the students'
Thomas Dion said he thought it was pretty cool that he’d been recognized as Clear Creek High School’s Teacher of the Year for 2022-23. Now concluding his fourth year teaching English in Clear Creek Independent School District, Dion said he hopes to use his status as Teacher of the Year to advocate for his fellow teachers and continue to work to make education better, especially for immigrant students who struggle with language.
“It’s cool to receive this, but what matters to me most is the relationships I have with my students and former students, and kids that aren’t even my students,” he said. “Their approval is what makes me feel something. I’ve always put my students first, no matter how many hours it is, I’m just there for the students.”
Dion, who graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake’s College of Human Sciences and Humanities with a Bachelor of Arts in Literature in 2014, received his post-baccalaureate teaching certification from the College of Education in 2020. He had already begun working as a long-term substitute at Clear Creek on a probationary teaching license in 2019.
“I was hired on during the last quarter of the year four years ago, essentially on an emergency basis after another teacher left,” he said. “I transferred to UHCL from the College of the Mainland when I was 23 years old. I had been a car mechanic, which I liked because I enjoy working with my hands. When I got to UH-Clear Lake, I didn’t declare a major for two semesters because I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
Although he took what he refers to as the “unique and eccentric route” through college, he had liked his previous college courses in sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and literature.
“If it’s a book, I’m going to read it,” he said. “I like reading and learning. I like this quote from Neil Postman. Paraphrased, he said that when you study biology, you study the words of biology. When you study astronomy, you study the language of the stars. Therefore, language is the subject that teaches all subjects. So, it doesn’t matter what you’re into; it’s all English class and we can all write and read about it.”
He said he came to UHCL in part because his mother received her master’s degree there, but also because he didn’t want to attend a university in which class sizes were large.
“I wanted to work closely with professors,” he said. “The smaller class size was important to me. In literature, you get into all kinds of discussions, and you can’t have that in a large class. At UHCL, I got a lot of one-on-one time and had a chance to really explore the topics.”
He added that he felt his professors cared about him and were invested in his success. “They are still invested in me and continue to care about me,” he said. “I’m still in touch with several of them, even now.”
Dion said he teaches juniors and has many concerns about the immigrant population at Clear Creek High School who have limited or no English language skills.
“We need to develop courses in which immigrant students can be successful, but there are a lot of regulations and they’re not even talking about these issues at the state level,” he said. “This problem creates barriers and causes students not to be able to get my time. I believe every student deserves my time, and I think I was voted Teacher of the Year because I am the one who wants to talk about how things are. The kids need something better. Putting kids with no language skills in a junior-level English class is wrong.”
Dion said no other special needs population in the school receives this treatment. “You don’t put a student with a learning disability into an advanced class,” he said. “That would never happen. I’m the student’s best bet. I will continue working to come up with new ways to teach higher level skills while the student is acquiring language.”
He said that at Clear Creek High School, he was part of a wonderful department. “If I’m good, it’s because I have a great support team, with great colleagues and mentors,” he said. “This is my opportunity to advocate for them and for my students.”
For more information about UHCL's Literature program, go online. The Teacher Education Program in the College of Education has many options for those pursuing teaching certification in almost any content area.