By CRISTINA JANNEY
Tom Albers became a teacher because of the relationships he built in high school sitting around the local convenience store, drinking pops and talking with his friends
“We had 17 senior boys. We weren’t always together. When we were, that wasn’t always the best thing. It wasn’t bad, but we were ornery,” Albers laughed. “You always had someone you could hang out with. The good news is that you didn’t have video games, so you were always doing things together.”
After 16 years as an assistant principal at Hays High School, Albers took over as at Hays Middle School. He replaces longtime HMS Principal Craig Pallister, who retired in the spring.
He said he wants to bring that feeling of belonging he felt as a senior in high school to his new students at Hays Middle School.
“My reason for being a teacher was that I loved high school so much. I loved the whole part of it,” he said. “I want to be part of that. I want to be part of that experience, and I want kids to have that experience that they just love being in school. I guess the reason I did [become a teacher] is that I didn’t want to let go of that feeling or memory.”
Albers, a Fort Hays State University grad, is in his 31st year as an educator. He spent 13 years in Pratt as a high school math teacher and coach and a year at Pittsburg High School as an assistant principal, before taking the assistant principal job in Hays to be closer to family.
Albers tries to bring that feeling of togetherness to his role as an administrator.
“It is important to know that people care. If they see me right off the bat in the morning, and they see that I am excited, maybe that brings excitement to them.”
He said he tries to show his staff he cares as well.
“I try to show our staff that they are very, very important. I am a servant to them, and I care about them. Hopefully, that translates to them doing the same thing to our students. I see that. We have a very caring staff.”
HMS and HHS are very fortunate to have a quality teacher pool and that is reflected in the education and school experience the students receive, he said.
“Kids need to come to school, knowing its a place for them, regardless what they do. It’s not just athletics. There is something for every kid we want them to be part of,” Albers said. “Music is important. Art is important. For us here, robotics is important. It doesn’t matter what it is, we just want kids to [feel like they belong].
“I have told some kids, it is just that they are a part of something. They may just be watching a ballgame, but they get to be in that HMS community and have the feeling of need and the feeling of being part of something.
“We want them here and to be excited. That is what my mission is. I want kids to come to school and say, ‘Man, I love being at school.’ That is not always easy to do anymore with everything that is out there distraction wise.”
Being a part of something bigger than themselves can help protect children from some of the many dangers they face in the world today, such as drugs, alcohol and predators, Albers said. Part of the growing process from sixth to eighth grade is helping the students learn to make positive decisions for themselves.
He said seeing kids grow is still his favorite aspect of being an educator.
“I think if you would ask any educator, it would be the relationship with the kids, seeing the kids grow, seeing the ah-ha moments,” he said. “For me it is also the staff, making connection with the staff, watching them grow and how they nurture our school. We are only as good as our staff.”
The rise of social media has created new challenges for educators and parents, said Albers who has five children ranging in age from a fourth-grader to a 24-year-old. He said he is not sure the kids today are having the face-to-face interactions he did with his high school friends, because they are interacting through social media.
“I don’t see a difference in kids, but I see a difference in what they have been exposed to and what they have to bring to the table,” he said.
With children in all three levels of Hays schools, Albers is kept busy with family obligations.
“I see all three levels and how it works together,” he said.
Albers said he is still learning the HMS system after spending so many years at HHS, but he said the staff at the middle school has been very helpful.
Albers has reached out to other parents at HMS and is seeking their input on how to make improvements.
“I always want us to grow, and find ways to make us better,” he said.