Brian Thomas pointing

Drummer, jokester, ‘special’ education teacher

May 7, 2019

This week, people from around the country are honoring a special population, those who make up one of our noblest professions: teachers. In recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week, here’s a look at one of our many graduates who leave our halls and enter others, where they inspire, engage and ignite the imaginations of today’s youth in schools in Denver and around the world.

Brian Thomas bristles when talking about colleagues who label students “problem kids” before they even know the teens. The University of Colorado Denver graduate wants to make sure all kids get a fair chance in school.

After moving to Denver “on a whim” and “finally finding his purpose” in the School of Education & Human Development (SEHD), Thomas entered the special education field so that he could help kids find their direction sooner than he did.

“These are the kids who need us the most,” said Thomas (MA ’18). “I really have a connection with them,” he said, recognizing that students struggling with special challenges are sometimes overlooked.

Brian Thomas smiles
Brian Thomas focuses on helping students find fun in learning.

Education goes beyond lesson planning

Sold on SEHD from the day he wandered into its offices to ask about the program, Thomas said his education went well beyond writing lesson plans. It reshaped the way he thinks, acts and communicates with people, said Thomas, who wins his students over with jokes, conversations about rock music and a creative teaching style.

Thomas largely credits his success to SEHD faculty members’ passion and their immersion as teachers in the field. “They were really influential. I paid a lot of attention to how they were teaching me as well as to what they were teaching,” said Thomas, who earned his bachelor’s degree in music performance at Alma College in Michigan.

“I paid a lot of attention to how they were teaching me as well as to what they were teaching.”

– Brian Thomas, CU alumnus

SEHD’s emphasis on early clinical experience was another chief attraction, he said. The program requires clinical experience throughout, beginning in the second semester.  “It definitely helped,” Thomas said.

“Brian is one of those students who saw opportunities, sought guidance from faculty and then actualized them,” said Nicole Winowiecki, special education instructor. “He served as a co-president for the on-campus Student Council for Exceptional Children while a student at CU Denver. This became a springboard for an elected two-year term board position with the state organization, Colorado Council for Exceptional Children.”

Brian Thomas at desk
Those who know him would say it’s rare to find Brian Thomas without a smile on his face.

Teacher makes difference in children’s lives

Connecting with kids and making learning fun comes easy to Thomas, a lover of everything outdoors who also plays drums in a local rock band called Lost Shapes. “I like being around the kids,” said Thomas, who sports drumstick tattoos on one arm and colorful koi on the other.  “I have a lot of the same interests, so I connect with them on their level.”

As a special education teacher, Thomas’s job involves helping students with cognitive and behavioral challenges move beyond school and transition into life. “That’s something I take really seriously,” he said.

As fun as his job can be at times, it isn’t always easy; but Thomas knows he has what it takes. “I’m very good at staying calm. I don’t get worked up, like, ever,” he said. And every time he sees a student change or make even the smallest stride toward finding direction, that’s all he needs. “Seeing that with these kids is just the most rewarding thing ever.”