From stacking at superstores to teaching at Brophy, Smith shares his motivations
By Ian Christopher Beck ’12
For most, the “what am I doing with my life?” moment is just a Hollywood plot twist, a fantastic instant that happens in movies but not real life.
But for Brophy’s Mr. Tommy Smith, that life-changing revelation was all too real, and it’s a major reason as to why he got to Brophy in the first place.
The Road to Brophy
Twelve years ago, the man affectionately known as “TSmith” was stacking liquor at various superstores when he was suddenly struck with a thought that would permanently alter his career and life path.
“It was one day out in Mesa when I helped some guy put 25 bottles of whiskey in his car … and I was like ‘what am I doing. I’m not making anyone’s life better,’” Mr. Smith said. “That’s when I was moved to seek out something else and I always wanted to be a teacher.”
Coincidentally Mr. Smith’s high school football coach, Mr. Ed Hearn, was the principal of Brophy at the time.
“Every day I wake up and I’m so grateful to him for giving me the chance,” Mr. Smith said, conceding that there may have been more qualified candidates who applied than him.
Trevor Szafran ’12, who took Mr. Smith’s Video Production class and attended Kairos 115 with him, has seen that daily expression of gratitude and joy.
“One thing that never ceases to amaze me is that he always has a smile on his face and really tries to find the good in life,” Szafran said.
Mr. Smith was hired as a full-time substitute but after a shuffle among teachers he landed as a history teacher teaching in the basement of Loyola Hall, which has since been turned into the weight room.
He would end up teaching a World History course to freshman for three years before the Eller Fine Arts Building was constructed and he transitioned into the role of a Video Production instructor.
A True Jesuit Educator
Growing up, Mr. Smith was surrounded by Jesuits thanks to his family’s heavy involvement in the Society of Jesus and his own educational background. He fondly recalls the Sunday family dinners frequented by local Jesuit priests who were friendly with the Smith family.
Mr. Smith said his strong family background helped him grow in his beliefs that are so in line with what Brophy and the Jesuit community teaches.
“My parents didn’t just teach me the importance of faith but they believe in the value of education, they believe so strongly in faith being the center of your life and I just picked up on that,” he said.
“I’ll tell you one of the things I love about teaching here at Brophy is that faith is the center of this place.”
Mr. Smith attended Loyola High School in Los Angeles, which he called the Brophy of South Central, and went to Santa Clara University for college, both Jesuit institutions.
His impressions of Jesuit educations are fairly high.
“The Jesuits believe in educating the whole person and academics isn’t necessarily the most valuable component of that education and I love that,” Mr. Smith said.
The greatest challenge he faces as a Brophy teacher, Mr. Smith said, is getting past the idea of privilege that frequents the community.
“We live in this privileged community, and that’s okay; I mean it’s not a fault of ours, it’s not bad that we live in this privileged community but with that comes the idea that we have to take care of others who aren’t as privileged and that’s a hard message to get through to 14 to 18 year old boys,” Mr. Smith said.
Thankfully, according to Mr. Smith, most students understand that message.
“I think they hear it and what’s so beautiful is that they do hear it and they do get it but there are still a few that don’t get it so those are the guys I want to go after,” he said.
Szafran also agreed that Mr. Smith stresses Jesuit ideals to his students.
“He encourages us to be open to growth and try new things or look at situations differently,” he said. “Service and giving back are a large part of his life and one thing that makes him really happy is when he can get us to give back as well.”
Szafran points to Mr. Smith’s ability to relate as one of the reasons he is so successful at reaching students.
“TSmith is easily relatable and a lot like a kid at heart,” Szafran said. “He understands us teenagers more than any other teacher I believe, but he also provides a viewpoint of being a parent and tires to help us understand why those parent/child relationships can cause friction.”
Szafran also said that his relationship with Mr. Smith has inspired him to be a better person.
“I can’t speak for others on this matter too much but in my own experience he has made me want to be better than I used to be,” Szafran said.