Thomas Pedersen

Teacher of the Year - Montana


You can’t pretend to have passion for kids and teaching.

They can tell if you are faking it. You have to love kids and have a passion for what you teach in order to be an effective educator. You must model life-long learning and pass it forward to the next generation. Teach your students that true wisdom plants a tree under which whose shade they will never sit.


In order to reach all of your students, you must have patience.

Learning is a journey for all of us and takes time. You must have the endurance of a marathon runner. Never give up on your students or yourself!


You must build relationships with your students.

Find out something about each student’s passion and ask them questions or make comments to let them know that you are paying attention. It is amazing how hard kids will work when they know that you care! Of course, a sense of humor and laughter should be a part of your daily lesson plans!


Be a role model for your students.

They are watching, whether you know it or not. Be a good human. Live a life with integrity and as a positive example for students to see in and out of the classroom. Model curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. Sometimes your actions are so loud that they can’t hear what you are saying. You never get a second chance to make a first impression!


Never underestimate the power of nature.

Get your students outside for some vitamin “N” and a cure for Nature Deficit Disorder. Kids spend too much time in front of screens each day and they must disconnect to reconnect to the peace, solitude, unstructured fun, and wonder of the outdoors. We evolved and were hard wired in the wild. Our minds and bodies hunger to be part of nature and not apart from it. Nature allows us to use all five senses and truly feel alive. Mother Nature doesn’t have a Zip Code…it is where you find it. Get your class outdoors and see them blossom!

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


Tom Pedersen is a 36 year veteran of teaching at Capital High School in Helena, Montana. His first passion was medicine but he left medical school due to health problems. However, he quickly developed a passion for teaching kids about the “study of life,” biology. His teaching career started at Capital High School in 1977, straight out of the University of Montana. At the beginning of his career he also was the Director of Biological Research at the Montana Science Institute located on Canyon Ferry Reservoir, which continued for eighteen summers. These students did original biological research and competed at the national and international level, winning the Westinghouse Science Award, the National Science Symposium, the Academy of Sciences, and the National and International Science Fairs. He has also been a field instructor for the Helena National Forest’s Youth Forest Monitoring Program for the past 10 summers. He teaches his crews how to test for water quality in remote mountain streams, including the Scapegoat Wilderness. He developed the school’s first Science Seminar program several decades ago to challenge his honors seniors to the ethical dilemmas concerning the environment and bioethics. He also teaches the honors biology II course designed for students entering medical and advanced biological fields.

Tom was named Biology Teacher of the Year (1990) and Helena Education Foundation Distinguished Educator every year since its inception ten years ago. In October of 2011 he was named the 2012 Montana Teacher of the Year. He was also the head Boys Track and Field coach and assistant Cross Country coach and has had several Championships and Coach of the Year awards during his 30 years.

For Tom, his greatest educational accomplishment is that his students REMEMBER lessons learned, as well as their wild experiences in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks and other wild places with wild things that bonded them forever. The greatest gift he has ever received has been when his former students have returned as guest speakers in his class or just to visit and tell him about their magnificent adventures in life. He believes nature is a powerful tool for teachers and learning that engages students and teaches them how to live and be alive.