Natalie Thomas and Her Impact at Air Academy

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Natalie Thomas and Her Impact at Air Academy

Mrs Thomas teaches American Sign Language here at Air Academy High School.

Mrs Thomas teaches American Sign Language here at Air Academy High School.

Mrs Thomas teaches American Sign Language here at Air Academy High School.

Mrs Thomas teaches American Sign Language here at Air Academy High School.

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Who is Natalie Thomas?

At the start of the day, American Sign Language teacher Natalie Thomas prepares for her first class. As students fill into her classroom with excitement, they are welcomed with a unique language. Thomas’s hands flow as a substitution for her voice. As the students watch her sign, their eyes become their ears.

Thomas is the first deaf faculty member in District 20, bringing a different and unique teaching aspect to ASL students.

How long has Thomas been teaching ASL?

Thomas has taught many of her students that there are formal and informal ways of signing. Thomas, when teaching here at Air Academy High School, teaches the formal way of signing, but also likes to teach students of the many aspects of signing while informing them that ASL is not a universal language.

When Thomas was asked about her signing she explained the various ways ASL has influenced her life.

“I am going into my fourth year of teaching here at Air Academy High School. Technically, growing up, I taught my friends and I taught my family; I taught them signs, but not in a formal way,” Thomas said.

Thomas enjoys to make class fun and reassures her students that there is no reason for them to be worried. She is glad when her students are making an effort to learn and grow in her class.

Thomas feels confident that in the future, many of her students will give back to the deaf community.

What is a normal day like in Thomas’s classroom?

As students pile into the classroom at 7:45 AM, they are met with a friendly smile while they go to the front to put their names cards in the bin.

Math teacher Kimberly Madden explained how Thomas has impacted the school.

“It is so great seeing students use her language. It’s amazing how she has made herself part of the Air Academy family,” Madden said.

When Thomas described how she handles class with up front positivity, she mentioned that she is a laid-back person, who wants her students to enjoy class.

“I start class with good morning or afternoon depending on when the class is and I tend to ask them about their good things that they share with me and with other students. I require them to be in ASL immersion with their voice off and signing only. They work in partners and sometimes they would talk or work on their computers and we always like to play games. I like to keep things interesting in class.”

When taking Thomas’s class, students will find that being able to be fully immersed into the culture helps them better understand the language itself. The students learn in a low-stress environment where they can feel confident that Thomas will always support and encourage them.

In Thomas’s class, students are challenged to step out of their comfort zones and use ASL for communication, learning the rules and respectful ways of using sign to communicate with one another. The class is full of excitement as students use ASL to talk, learn and play games.

Junior Aimee Nolan, a previous student of Thomas, has been taking ASL for three consecutive years.

“Mrs.Thomas played a lot of games and it really helped my learning style. But, I really liked how she used creative teaching styles.  Mrs.Thomas is a great teacher and she is very accepting of people who are not as good at signing and she does not judge you. She taught me there is no boundaries and that anyone can do anything,” Nolan said.

What is it like teaching?

As most of her students either know a little sign language or none at all, Thomas strives to show all staff and students there is always a way to communicate with her.

Honestly, it is a different environment for me because I am used to working in a deaf environment. But, when working in an hearing environment, it is different because not everyone knows signs. Some might know a little bit and some don’t, so I have a tendency to use an interpreter to voice for me when needed. I am a pretty lay back person. I really like working in a hearing environment,” Thomas explained.

Sophomore Marie Walters explains what she likes about using ASL.

“I love signing because I can learn about the deaf culture and community,” Walters said.

But, there are moments when students can be disrespectful and use their voice. However, there are moments whens students slip up and use their voice, which is considered disrespectful when communicating with deaf people while fully immersed into the culture.

What would you like students and staff to know?

As she has only been teaching at AAHS for four years, there are many things staff and students do not know about Thomas. For example, she went to Gallaudet University, which is the only deaf university in the country, located in Washington DC. Thomas explained that at Galludet she was able to find her deaf identity.

Thomas explained that the university was unique in the sense that so many people were signing different forms of sign language that they were regional forms of ASL. Thomas explained that a a deaf identity is almost similar to a hearing person who has different accents, such as northern or westerner accents. In this sense, a deaf identity individualizes and can show who a person is.

“I grew up in a mainstream school setting with an interpreter and later I had some deaf classes, but when I would go into Gallaudet, the deaf school, I really found my deaf identity and because Gallaudet is the only deaf university in the world, there is only one, in Washington DC. That helped me grow as a woman and as a strong person in the deaf world and in the deaf culture. It gave me a confidence of my own and really gave me an identity and I can do it attitude,” Thomas said.

Thomas would also like people to know about her family and her love for them.

“Obviously I’m deaf. I am willing to work with [students] and if they don’t know signs its okay we can still write and we can still communicate. I have a daughter and I have a husband and it’s great,” Thomas said.

Junior Bo Alby explained that she herself is hard of hearing and enjoys taking ASL to formally learn the language and grow in it.

“Mrs.Thomas taught me that the deaf community is its own entire culture with its own rules you have to follow and that it is thinking for the whole group and not just for yourself. Mrs.Thomas is really fun and sweet and she is flexible,” Alby stated.

Here at AAHS, Thomas has made an impact on many students lives and showed them her own personal connection to the deaf community. She has inspired many students and taught them that silence is never truly silent.

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