Professor takes long road to Washburn

Happy to be here Wally Thompson has led an adventurous life on his path to the English department here at Washburn University. At one point, Thompson served as an English instructor in Mexico.

Rob Burkett / Washburn Review

From eastern Texas to south of the border to Washburn, Wally Thompson has traveled a long and winding road that has finally landed him in the Sunflower State.

For Thompson, life started in Tyler, Texas, where his parents both grew up. His father became a career member of the United States Air Force. As a result, according to Thompson, he was raised all over the world, but still lived his high school years in east Texas. Eventually after his parents retired to San Antonio, Thompson followed them.

However, upon graduation from high school, Thompson embarked on a way of life that many youth took in those days. With the mandatory draft still in effect at that point, Thompson made a choice.

“[For] my generation, if you could see lightning and hear thunder, you went into the military,” said Thompson. “We didn’t have a choice. In the draft, a huge percentage of people were given the choice of [going] to the military or [going] to jail. I chose the Navy and avoided the draft that way.”

After serving his time in the military, Thompson went back to school. Having completed the first year and a half of classwork, he was taking his last required English course.

“I had never really liked English before, but I had a great professor,” said Thompson. “He encouraged me to get a degree in English. So I went to Stephen F. Austin University as an English major. Within a year, I had a family to support. So how do you support a family with an English degree? Well, you teach.”

Thompson at one point had thought about getting involved in some sort of social work and through his studies had come to be taught that teaching in effect was giving back to the community. As a result, Thompson became quickly involved in the teaching profession.

“I graduated and then went to San Antonio and got a job and taught for a few years before taking some time off,” said Thompson.

For 10 years after that Thompson pursued a career path in other fields that ranged from working as a consultant to AT&T to working in the social work field to running a tourism business in Mexico.

“I learned to ride a motorcycle and I went crazy,” said Thompson. “I left the consultant job to start a business taking tourists through Mexico on motorcycles. It was a lot of fun, I didn’t make a whole lot of money, but it was a lot of fun.”

Thompson then decided to take a look at his career path future at that point, considering his background of social work. According to Thompson, there was no real choice, he wanted to go back to teaching.

“I picked up a job as an English teacher at the school I had left until I went to Mexico,” said Thompson.

Thompson then ventured south across the border to take on a teaching position at a school there. For three years, he taught fifth and sixth grade in Mexico.

“I went from teaching eleventh grade English to teaching fifth graders that couldn’t speak English,” said Thompson. “That was a cultural shock. They do schooling differently. A lot of things are different there.”

The school he taught at was considered the “American school” and was where privileged students went. The only reason that he came back was a result of Mexican politics. The president at the time left office, taking every peso he could out of the national treasury on his way out. As a result, the value of the currency fell dramatically. The resulting impact on his standard of living forced him to return to the United States.

“One month I was making $1,000 a month, which I could live comfortably on,” said Thompson. “The next day, it was $500.”

After returning, Thompson went back to work in the Texas public school system, teaching middle school science along the border. About that time, Thompson started to think about the end of his career. His passion for teaching brought him to the decision to spend his remaining working years teaching teachers.

That decision took him to the University of Texas-Brownsville to work through the masters program. That decision in turn led him to Texas A&M University where he then began his doctoral work. While at TAMU, he became a teaching assistant for three years. As that wound down, a position came open to become a lecturer back at UT-Brownsville. He spent four semesters there until the position was erased due to budget cuts.

When the position disappeared, Thompson began searching again and came upon his current position at Washburn. Currently, Thompson holds a lecturer position in the education department but is committed to staying at the university.

“I really like it here,” said Thompson. “Its just the right size, and you have what appears to be a highly motivated student body. They want to be here at this university, and they want to be successful. I’m really impressed with the quality of the [education department] program. Its different than any education program I’ve seen, and its much more thorough in its preparation of teachers, what we call pre-service teachers. So really, I’m learning a lot and growing as a professional.”

In coming to Kansas, Thompson’s friends back home advised him that the sunflower state wouldn’t be anything like Texas. According to them, Kansas was flat, windy and brown.

“When I came here for the interview, I drove in from Kansas City,” said Thompson. “It was beautiful, with rolling hills, woods and pine trees. The people here are incredibly friendly. I’m having a good experience here.”