From Tourist to Teacher

Grace Hannum, Managing Editor

Thomas Hefele is the definition of an explorer, he has seen more of the world then most people ever will. Studying abroad for six months in Madrid gave Hefele a new perspective on cultures outside the US.

“All your perceptions of the world are just completely shattered,” Hefele said. “I made so many friends there; I played with a soccer team there and got to know a bunch of the locals and Spaniards while learning all about the country.”

Hefele took advantage of every chance he had to learn about the culture and traveled as much as he could. He encourages any student who has the chance to study abroad to do the same.

“A word of advice would be to not waste your experience,” Hefele said. “The majority of people that go and study abroad like some of my roomates, they were not bad people and I got along with them well, but they spent a majority of their time on the weekends going to bars and nightclubs kind of wasting their money. That’s the same old stuff you have in the U.S. I really wanted to take my time and go to places I’ve never been.”

Taking in all the beautiful scenery like the Swiss Alps, the Matterhorn Mountain, Venice Italy, and the Neuschwanstein Castle (commonly known as Cinderella’s castle) was an experience of a lifetime. But a trip to Vatican City was one he’ll never forget.

“I ended up in Rome and I managed to get into eastern mass and get to see the Pope in his ‘popemobile’,” Hefele said. “It was an experience, and one I don’t forget about.”

Hefele is from a heavily populated but outstretched town in Virginia, full of mountains and forest.  

“I love going hiking up there, I mean I love the desert but part of me misses the hills up there,” Hefele said.  “I’m really looking forward to going back home over fall break.”

Hefele began is collegiate studies in Bioengineering at the University of Virginia. But like many college students decided to switch paths.

“My third year I just kind of burnt out, I was taking all these high level math and physics  courses and yeah, I was enjoying them, but I wasn’t doing it for the joy,” Hefele said.

Deciding on a career isn’t easy and rarely do people find one that they love and are passionate about. Hefele said he took his skills, laid them on the table and found a career that brought him joy. It all started by working at a summer camp.

“I got to work with students and I would just tell them some weird and wacky math or physics facts and they would think it was just the coolest thing in the world,” Hefele said.  “That kind of was one stepping stone seeing that I could share my joy and passion with others.

Hefele’s interest in teaching was strengthened when he took a position working with an organization that works with underprivileged kids.  

A second thing is, I did tutoring for an organization in Charlottesville known as Long Love, which is Latino and migrant aid, and it was just such a great joy that I got from helping out,” Hefele said. “It kind of just planted this seed in my head that maybe this is something I could do.”

Hefele switched from grad school to teaching and hasn’t looked back since.  

“It really set well with me knowing I could have good impact on all of y’all lives,” Hefele said.  

The first year as teacher can be daunting for anyone, but Hefele is taking the challenge head on.

“It’s just me, myself and I right now,” Hefele said. “I really don’t have anyone to fall back on, and if I’m gonna be honest, it seems like I’ve settled down to pre-calc pretty well. It’s been hard.”

Hefele is teaching Pre-Calculus for the first time this year, but has experience teaching Physics. Though the adjustment to a new campus has been a formidable one, Hefele is starting to settle in.

“I really like Combs but I’ll admit it’s been a bit of a challenge, it’s a bit different from my school I’ve been student teaching at,” Hefele said. “In the future, I hope to set higher expectations; I want everybody to succeed and do well and prepare them for life outside of school. I ultimately want the build up this program leading into Calculus and also build up an excellent physics program.”