The School of Education strives to produce the sort of teachers who create lasting memories for their students and instill in them a lifelong love of learning. And thanks to the generous support of U-M’s community of donors, we have had the opportunity to honor such exemplary teachers, whether they got their start at SOE or elsewhere. We are pleased to present the stories behind two of the school’s endowed memorial scholarships celebrating the lives of extraordinary teachers.
The Eugene “Scott” Thompson Memorial Scholarship
Popular Burns Park Elementary teacher Scott Thompson passed away in 2018 after a battle with cancer. But Olive Martin, who was a third grade student of Thompson’s at the time, was inspired to keep her teacher’s memory alive by launching a scholarship fund to support the great teachers of the future. The Eugene “Scott” Thompson Memorial Scholarship will support students in the ELMAC program, which helped launch Thompson’s career.
“He was very good at teaching. He would never just stay in the classroom,” Martin says, describing a project where the students would go outdoors and work together in teams. “We'd all have to work together to build a house out of pool noodles that he could stand in and dance in. It was a lot of fun and it made our class come together a lot more.”
After Thompson passed, Martin worked with her father, former LSA dean Andrew Martin, to establish the scholarship fund. Olive donated a portion of her allowance, while her parents provided the rest of the endowment. Martin says she wanted to establish the scholarship because “I really want more teachers to be like Mr. Thompson and more people to be as kind and as amazing as he is.”
With her gift supporting future teachers studying at the SOE, Olive Martin has some advice for up-and-coming educators. “My advice to new incoming teachers would be to not be so hard on the rules of a classroom, and to be able to bend with the class and with the lesson that you're teaching,” she says. “Mr. Thompson had this plastic stick that would bend and whenever he wanted us to be flexible and be able to change our schedule he would always bend the stick and we would always remember to do that.”
Charles Kern Award Fund
Cliff and Laura Craig have long been generous donors to multiple schools and colleges at U-M. Though neither are SOE alumni, the Craigs have established the Charles Kern Award in honor of Dr. Cliff Craig’s high school teacher and mentor. The scholarship is given to undergraduate students in their final year who plan to become high school teachers.
“He taught me how to think,” Cliff Craig says of his early mentor, whom he describes as a “sharp dresser” who stood out among teachers at Denby High School in Detroit. After graduation, Craig attended Tufts University for his undergraduate degree and then completed his MD in 1969 at the U-M Medical School. He returned to campus in 1999 as a clinical associate professor of pediatric orthopaedic surgery after a career in Boston. Throughout all that time, he and wife Laura kept in touch with Kern and his family.
Craig recalls taking a seminar class during his senior year of high school taught by Kern and two other teachers where students were assigned to present on a topic that was important to them. “I had been interested in medicine for a long time, so the topic I picked was socialized medicine, which at the time was a big topic in 1961,” he said. Craig opposed the still-controversial system in his presentation. “I really got shredded by the faculty,” he says. “You learned very quickly, if you were gonna put something out, you had to be ready to defend it pretty well.”
Despite his argument failing to win over his teachers, this would mark the beginning of a relationship that would prove formative to Craig’s ongoing education. Kern would periodically host other teachers at his home and invite them to debate whatever issues he found in that month’s Time magazine, Craig remembers. He sometimes found himself at these gatherings after graduation. “You couldn't be agnostic about anything. You had to be either for it or against it, and you better be ready to defend your position,” Craig says, laughing. “And I’ll never forget, he took his Time magazine once and he tore out all the ads from it, and he said, ‘See how little information is really in this magazine!’”
Craig’s friendship with his former teacher continued until Kern’s death in 1984. Craig wanted to honor Kern’s memory, landing on a scholarship fund to help teaching students grow into mentors themselves—though Craig jokes that “he might be mad at me about setting up an award in his name actually, and that's okay.” Though Kern was not an SOE alum, Craig chose to establish the scholarship at U-M because of his own connection to the Medical School (and because he once rented a room from former SOE dean James Edmonson’s widow during his student days in Ann Arbor).
Though she did not get to know Kern as well as her husband did, Laura Craig described him as “a very charming man,” and the Craigs would often get together with Kern and his wife when visiting Ann Arbor from Boston.
“He was a person who said, ‘Hey look, we’ve got this great world out there. How are we to think about this great world?’” Laura Craig says. She recalls Kern sending articles in the mail for the two couples to discuss. “That was also the time when we were starting to have children, so it was nice to have something more intellectual come along other than a picture book.”
Craig has been involved in teaching since his earliest days practicing medicine, and here, too, Kern's influence informs his practice. “I just find it very rewarding to teach students and be with them when they get this sort of aha moment,” he says. “And to be honest, you learn a lot. If you have to teach something, you have to really know it very well, because the students will ask you questions, they’ll challenge you. It makes you a better physician to be able to teach.”
Craig continues to feel Kern’s influence on his teaching today, even reaching into the unique challenges of the COVID-19 environment. “When my lecture to the surgery students went virtual last year, I struggled with how to keep the 30 students engaged on a Zoom call. Recalling how Mr. Kern always asked us questions, I decided to flip my class similarly,” he says. “I sent my lecture slides out a day ahead of the lecture and let the students know that after each segment of the lecture I wanted them to ask me questions about the material, and if no one volunteered I would call on students for questions. Students came with very good questions that greatly helped to enhance the material and change the lecture going forward.”