Teacher Engages Students with History

Thomas Wiebe has been teaching history and government around the world for 12 years. For the past two years, he has brought his expertise to the 11th and 12th graders of  de Toldeo, where he is known for his engaging and dynamic teaching style. A dual citizen of France and America, Wiebe got his B.A. in history at Oregon University and chose a career in education after having tried his hand at an eclectic mix of jobs since childhood.  

Where were you born? 

I was born in Grenoble, France, which is a little town near the Alps.

Do you remember anything from France? 

Definitely. I lived there kind of on and off a couple times. When I was born, I only lived there for about six months, but then I did part of third grade in France. I was in a school play. I was a Roman soldier, which was pretty fun. I got a toy sword. Then I lived there after college. I was a teacher in France for a year. 

How many different languages have you learned in your life? 

I have learned English, French, Spanish, and Korean.

How did you learn to speak Korean?

I lived in Seoul, South Korea. I was a teacher there. When you live somewhere, you pick up stuff. You go on taxi rides or to restaurants, things like that.

When did you start playing music? 

When I was a little kid, my mom made me take piano lessons, which I hated, but I was pretty good at it, so I stuck with it for a while. Once I was in middle school and high school, I got into rock music and punk. So I picked up a guitar and I learned the whole Green Day album “Dookie.” That started my passion with rock music.

What were some of the coolest jobs that you had before being a teacher? 

I always had jobs. When I was in middle school, I was refereeing soccer games for cash. I was a paper boy when I was a little kid. The longest non-teaching job I had was working in a metal shop. That was pretty cool. I learned how to do a little bit of welding, how to take liquid metal and pour it into these molds to make household goods like spoons, knives, and things…Cute stuff. The lumberjack thing was pretty cool. I never thought I would do something like cutting down huge trees.

Weren’t you a white water rafting instructor?

 I’m a white water rafting guide, but that’s more of a passion thing.  I have done it a little bit professionally, too, but I still do it every summer just for fun. My family is into it, too.

Where did you get the idea of being a teacher? 

What’s funny about that is I always told myself I would never be a teacher. My parents were both teachers, so I wanted to be different from them. I thought about being a detective when I was a little kid. Then after college I got the French teaching opportunity, and I really wanted to travel, so I was just going to do the teaching thing as a way to see the world, and I turned out I really loved doing it. 

Where did you get your ideas about how to teach history?

History was always my favorite subject. When I did the teaching thing in France, I was actually teaching English as a Second Language, but I wanted to teach something I like. So history was a good fit.

Did you like history when you were a student?

Yeah. It was always sort of my favorite subject. I just like the stories and the conflicts and the human side of things. So I was always naturally drawn to that. I had a good memory for things like that, that were not just numbers, but were more cause and effect and why do people do things they do? It’s all fascinating to me.

How has working in international schools shaped your philosophy of education?

I think that has shown me that the world is way more connected than I originally thought. Everyone knows stuff about America, but we don’t always know about their cultures as much. I thought that I could bring some of my stories about living in Korea, and that would make my students more interested in the world.

Do you have a favorite grade or subject matter?

I generally like the older kids, you know, juniors and seniors. It’s not that I don’t like freshmen, but they start to grow up a bit and get more interested in the world and start thinking about careers and colleges. It’s an exciting time in life.

What don’t you like about how education is practiced in America?

I think some of the focus is so much about getting into the right college. A lot of cultures can suffer from that, especially in private schools in America. I see how much stress it puts on kids and I don’t really think that getting into this certain school is going to change your life that much. I wish we had a little bit more focus on the now.   

How do you think we can improve education in America?

I don’t really have any power to change the desire to get into college, but I do try and make my classes really fun and engaging, so you don’t have to be stressed out about tomorrow. I want students to be in the lesson and in whatever we’re talking about. When that happens, it’s a very powerful thing

How is it that you have so much energy that you can take to a classroom? 

This is a cheesy little expression, but “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I really do love teaching. Being in a room full of people and working on something together, it pumps me up, man. It really does. I never wake up and I’m like “ugh I don’t want to go to work.” Instead, when I wake up I’m like “cool we’re learning about World War II.” In teaching, you’re dealing with people and no two people are the same. I might be teaching the same lesson, but it’s different every day. I never know who’s going to make a funny [joke] or who’s going to do something stupid or silly or whatever. That always keeps me on my toes. It’s a good gig.