by Lisa Moody Breslin, photography by Walter P. Calahan

The ideal student for Century High School teacher Thom McHugh is one who is “present, prepared, and participating.” He assigns the same qualities to the ideal teacher. Those qualities are only a few that he possesses, as evident in his recent distinction as Carroll County Public Schools’ 2017 Teacher of the Year.

McHugh has been with the Carroll School system for 27 years and is currently an English teacher at Century High School; he will join the winners from Maryland’s 23 other school districts at the Annual Maryland Teacher of the Year Awards Gala in October. One highlight of the October gala? The state-level winner will be announced.

When did you discover that you loved teaching? After I took a leave of absence after my first four years, I went out to graduate school in Montana and discovered quite a bit, including that teaching and learning was what I had to do.

What do you hope distinguishes you from other teachers? My passion for learning.

What distinguishes Carroll County schools from other county schools? We still have a community vibe. I mean, where else could I be on a first name basis with the Superintendent?

Who, or what, inspires you most personally and professionally? Learning. Just being around it, helping it happen, watching what happens with it or because of it.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for teachers today? Not knowing who we are or how important what we do is. We take our cues from our culture instead of ourselves. There aren’t too many professions that seemed to be defined by the popular culture like us…We are portrayed as either saints or sadists, and the truth is most of us are neither. And the best of us are passionate professionals.

The biggest challenge for students? Getting a smart phone – or as I call them, their Pocket Overlords – when they are six.

What do you love to teach the most – (a specific topic)? Linguistics, rhetoric, film, poetry.

Were you ever a bad (ineffective, uninspiring) teacher? If yes, why? Ineffective, sure, before I understood you have to teach the kids in front of you. I kept teaching the kids I thought should be in front of me. That is the very definition of ineffective.

Describe your teaching style? Coltrane meets Sam Kinison meets Jonathan Edwards.

Who is your most memorable teacher and what do you appreciate the most about her/him? Al Mund from Randallstown High School. He met me where I was during a time I needed that.

If you only had an elevator ride (from the first floor to the fourth floor) to describe the coolest things about being Teacher of the Year, what would you say? It is the blessing of realizing how much what I do matters.

Beyond teaching, what else defines you? My faith, my family, my fun.

Favorite movie (this week)? I just saw Logan…finally a Marvel film, instead of just movies.

Favorite books (this week)? Of all time? I am currently reading Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach. I also like The Quartet by Joseph Ellis and The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters by Wes Moore. I have been rereading Claudia Rakine’s Citizen lately. It is really resonating right now. Best book of all time?…. That’s way to difficult, sorry.

Favorite way to relax? Hike up a mountain.

How do you pump yourself up when you feel deflated? Play with my kids, Ainsley, Molly, and Liam – and my dog, Milo.