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New York City
March 2002

Barbara Gordon, New York State Teacher of the Year 2002

Factors in Career Choice: I had always loved words, perhaps a genetic gift from my mother and grandmother who were always reading and doing crossword puzzles. It is also important to remember that in my adolescence I did not “see” women in roles other than housewife-moms, secretaries, nurses, and teachers. My strongest influence and supporter was my mother. A bright woman who never had the opportunity to go to college, she spent her life working in relatively unchallenging jobs. She was my role model of a working woman, wife and mother. It is she who convinced my father that college was worthwhile for a girl! My high school Latin teacher was a favorite with his tales of Roman gods and goddesses, his linguistic challenges as he used sophisticated Latin-rooted English words to describe us and our teenage world. My college years in the 60s brought many influences including the civil rights movement and the feminist movement. I began to see teaching as a powerful means for personal growth and societal impact.

Pivotal Point: I’ve always been proud to be a teacher and more specifically a French teacher. And yet, I reached a point when after hearing for the umpteenth time “Oh, I took French in high school and can’t remember a thing” that I questioned my career choice and my personal worth in a society that did not particularly value a liberal education, nor the ability to understand another language. I did not want to dedicate my energies to a worthless endeavor. It is during this period of self-evaluation and doubt that I realized my most important work was to form caring citizens of the world. I use French to do this; to expose young people to other cultures, cuisines, religions, viewpoints; to teach tolerance while opening their minds to a different set of symbols, a different way of expression, perhaps even a different way of thinking; to share my joy as I, too, continue to discover the world and myself.

Achievements: In the last few years I have received several honors that are highlights of my professional and personal life. To have colleagues choose you worthy of an award is awesome: my foreign language community honored me within the state as an outstanding FL teacher and my school district chose me as the district teacher of the year. My colleagues’ admiration and respect is ultimate praise in my estimation and I have been very proud to represent them this year as New York State Teacher of the Year 2002.

Obstacles: My greatest obstacle might be my choice of subject. Foreign languages are not perceived as necessary or vital in the American educational system nor in our culture at large. The teaching of French is also a constant defensive position. I try to counteract these negative feelings by modeling the excitement of language learning and stressing the goal of greater global understanding.

Mentors: My first department chair–a diminutive, grey-haired, lively Latin teacher – was wonderful! A veteran teacher of limitless energy and enthusiasm, excited by new ideas, she showed me how to be a caring and conscientious teacher by her actions, her suggestions, her steady support.

Advice: Ask yourself: What is your passion? What do you love to do? That love is your future. For me it was words, then languages. Study your favorite subject. If you love it, you will succeed. Find others who share your love and they become your mentors and your friends. Share your knowledge with others and you continue the cycle of support.

Goals: I want to continue to share my experience and knowledge with others, including children, future teachers, businesses, service organizations. I enjoy presenting workshops and reaching out to new groups. I’ve recently begun volunteering as an interpreter with a refugee resettlement program. This work is very rewarding and introduces me to others who remind me to appreciate my life. They inspire me to work towards a world that embraces equality, justice and freedom for all cultures and all of humanity.#


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