By Julian Brenman ’20
In July 2017, Thomas Soper (or just “Thomas”) joined the Friends’ Central upper school faculty as a ninth and eleventh grade English teacher, a freshman homeroom advisor, and Brothers Square and FOCUS advisor. Thomas brings decades of experience in English education to Friends’ Central. He’s worked for a medical publishing company in New York, as an editor for a graduate school professor in Philadelphia, as a teacher of kindergarteners, middle-schoolers, and college students, and most recently, as an upper school English teacher, resident advisor, soccer coach, and advisor of the anime and tabletop gaming clubs at Newtown’s prestigious George School.
Thomas describes his experience at Friends’ Central thus far: “This place is so dynamic. There’s so much going on. The school has a vibrant culture and people invest interest in participating in that culture. There are a lot of people who are very involved, and who care very deeply about what happens here. I’ve found it welcoming and challenging. I like that we can hold each other’s cares with consideration and respect, while at the same time challenging each other to be better, to be our better selves.” In regard to the newspaper-advising portion of his new position, Thomas shares, “I love the fact that the school has a working newspaper that has dedicated staff that are putting out good news about the community. I’d like it to be more vibrant, the staff to be more robust, for us to have more articles, more ideas coming from students so that we can be selective in our process. This is all a work-in-progress.”
While Thomas has done a fabulous job of immersing himself in the Friends’ Central culture, he doesn’t leave his roots behind. He shares about his ten years at George School: “I owe almost everything to my experience at George School. I grew not only as a teacher, but as a person.”
Thomas is no stranger to the upper school English classroom, but teaching at a day school is new for him, as George School offers a residential program. Thomas observes the differences between boarding schools and day schools: “At a day school, you have social elements, but everyone has a home culture that they go back to at the end of the school day, whereas at George, for over half of the student body, their home culture, at least for the school year, was the school campus. That affects the school community. Not to say that George School has a stronger sense of community than Friends’ Central, because I think both places are very self-conscious of community. Yet, inherently because you have people who are always around each other, who are with each eachother each morning, each evening, and each weekend, there is a more intimate connection. You really get to know each other. That’s something that I enjoyed there.”
Thomas is passionate about motivating young people to love reading and writing. He vividly recalls when he, a former player on his high school varsity soccer team, fell in love with literature. He explains, “In high school, I got sick with mono, and was out of my gym class for a while. I was in study hall reading some works in our anthology that were not required reading. Yet, I really fell in love with the poetry on the page. I was recognizing at that time that I was getting more out of works in English class than my peers were. I was understanding them at a deeper level, and I was able to participate more fully than I was in my other classes. I was happy to have a skill and a strength in that area.”
Thomas elaborates about his love of language: “Language has the ability to present to a person a whole world and to give to an individual the ability to create a whole world. You can have your life changed in a story. You can have a kind of inspiration that you can feed off of for days, weeks, a lifetime even from the works that have been created. I love the meaning stories bring to our lives and the power language gives us to express ourselves and what it does for human consciousness. Language expresses, communicates, changes minds, and helps people to grow. I think you could say that about other art forms, but there’s something about language which can capture more complex and sophisticated ideas. We use the art of story to understand people’s experiences and realities that are different than ours. That’s what moves us forward in society. It improves the way we live.”
The English teacher reveals his favorite book: “The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien is my favorite. The work itself is kind of surrealistic. In general, my favorite genres are post-structuralist and avant-garde. I’ll admit, I am a picky reader.”
In addition to being a reader, writer, and teacher, Thomas is an outdoorsman, husband, and father. He “loves the woods and the mountains,” enjoys running, and has even ridden his bike for 100 miles at a time on multiple occasions. His son, Milo, is a fifth grader at Friends’ Central, and his daughter, Junah, is a student in the third grade. Thomas’s wife, Kim, works as a consultant for nonprofits. Thomas adores playing fantasy role-playing games and partaking in collaborative storytelling.
Thomas, a native of Freehold, NJ, holds a B.A. in English Literature from Rutgers University, and an M.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from Temple University. He also studied for a teaching certification at the University of Pennsylvania. He closes the interview by stating, “My drive to teach and to be in this educational world is to be the kind of teacher I never had. To forge personal connections with students. My job is to point out to all of my students all of the power and benefit that reading and writing have to offer. At the heart of everything I do is for my students’ own improvement. However difficult I may seem in my grading, it’s because I have high standards, which I hope reflect the care and the belief I have for their ability to do well and to improve.”