Kathleen Anne Beres and Judith Marie Garcia, who both seek to be the first teacher in space, thought they were reaching for the stars.

But a down-to-earth telephone call last Friday from Terri Rosenblatt, a director with the NASA Teacher in Space Project, brought the two high school teachers considerably closer to their dream.

"It didn't connect right away. I thought maybe she was calling for my vouchers or something," said Garcia, 44, a French and Spanish teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County.

"I assumed Terri had called to chitchat or maybe that I had left something at the hotel," said Beres, 36, who teaches biology at Kenwood High School in Baltimore.

Rosenblatt told them they were among 10 finalists (six men, four women), one of whom will be selected for the crew of Shuttle Mission 51-L, a launch scheduled for Jan. 22, 1986.

The would-be "teachernauts," who range in age from 33 to 45 and come from nine states, were announced yesterday by NASA Administrator James M. Beggs.

It was "a feeling of elation I can hardly describe," said Garcia.

"I just shrieked," said Beres. When Rosenblatt gave her the news, "I started walking in circles, just saying, 'I don't believe it, I don't believe it, I don't believe it.' I said, 'Pardon me for shrieking in your ear.' She said, 'That's okay, go right ahead and shriek.' "

"It's going to be a while before I get my feet on the ground again," said Garcia. "In my age group, women weren't allowed on the space shuttle. It's like the impossible dream -- I've been allowed to dream it.

"I don't think there's a human being on earth who's ever looked up at space without wondering what's up there."

Garcia's dream began with a 15-page application. "I spent the major part of January doing it, every spare moment and even some moments I didn't have to spare," she recalled.

She started reading about the space program, attending lectures, building two models of the orbiter and visiting the National Air and Space Museum. "I have lived down here at this museum."

She says she lost count of the interviews she's had since her nomination in April, including her home-town newspaper in Morgantown, W. Va., and her parents' home-town paper in Tyler, Tex.

Decorations in her Fairfax County school office -- shuttle models and posters -- tell of her enthusiasm for the space program. Fellow teachers dressed the school mascot -- a model of a little boy named Harvey High-Tech -- in a tinfoil spacesuit with a small tinfoil helmet.

"Somebody heard it on the radio this morning, and it went around the school like wildfire," said Dale Rumberger, the school's student activities coordinator. "If you knew Judy, you'd be proud, and you'd be pleased. All I can say is that those nine other people must really be something."

Said Garcia, "Students who I didn't even know have come up to me to congratulate me . . . Suddenly the space program became a very personal thing for them too."

One student, she said, wrote a letter of congratulations and added that she had gone on to become an interpreter. "She thanked me for having given her this direction.

"So many times teachers only get negative feedback . . . This letter meant so much to me."

She would be glad, she said, to represent humanities teachers in space -- and happy to be teaching the humanities at a science-oriented school. "The two -- arts and sciences -- have to be married and we've got to make it a happy marriage."

The NASA nomination put the finishing touch on what has been a blue-ribbon year for Garcia. In February, she spent a month in France studying language, literature and culture at the Universite' de Savoia. The day after she returned, she began work at Thomas Jefferson, chairing the language department.

Garcia previously taught French and Spanish at two other Fairfax County schools -- Lake Braddock High School for 12 years, and before that Robert E. Lee High School for 11 years. She is married to Angel Octavio Garcia, a petroleum engineer with the National Transportation Safety Board. They have a daughter, Kim, a junior at George Mason University.

Garcia earned her BA in Spanish in 1963 from the University of West Virginia, and a masters in education from George Mason University in 1977.

If physical tests counted for much in the final selection, Kathleen Beres has shown the Right Stuff. She led a rope team in traversing a glacier in Greenland, crossed the Atlantic with three others in a 31-foot sloop, and has climbed the Himalayas, the Andes, Mount Rainier and Kilimanjaro.

"It's like my whole life has been planned for this moment," said Beres. "NASA always stresses the teamwork. I've had a lot of team work . . . Hearing avalanches rumble all around, and being in the Atlantic with a 50-knot wind. I've had a lot of stresses in stressful conditions and shared a lot of team experiences."

Beres, who is single, has a BA in biological sciences (pre-med) from the College of Notre Dame in Maryland and a masters of science from Johns Hopkins University. After an intern stretch as a surgery assistant, "I suddenly reevaluated everything," said Beres. "I realized, for doctors, their life wasn't their own. They were on call so much of the time. I thought teaching would be a better alternative, all the time thinking I'd return to med school. But it never happened."

She has no regrets.

"Rewards do come in teaching. Especially when a child comes back years later and says 'thank you.' Or when a child tells you how you've touched their life . . . You've become a role model for them."

She is concerned about the public's knowledge of space travel and plans to promote space studies as another main subject of high school study, "in a multidisciplinary way, to have a curriculum that includes the space frontier, the space adventure.

"I think the public is a little blase' about the space flights. And people are not aware of the procedure, how the space rockets return, for instance. I polled my students about it and realized how little they knew about the space program, how it's a part of their life. We need to show science is for the public.

"Teachers are in competition for student attention with the media, with the TV, with the instant everything. It's important a kid sees that, not a rock star, not someone from their soap opera, but one of their teachers is up there. The nature of teaching is communication, and that teacher in space will become the universal teacher."

The 10 finalists were chosen by the Council of Chief State School Officers from an original list of 11,416 applicants who responded to President Reagan's announcement last August that a teacher would be the first private citizen to fly on the shuttle. Two finalists are from Idaho, three are from New England, the other five are from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana and Texas.

The select 10 were chosen from 114 candidates picked by teacher associations from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the six U.S. territories and protectorates. The finalists will be flown on July 7 to Houston's Johnson Space Center for medical tests, briefings and a flight in a KC-135 training plane that gives its passengers between 20 and 30 seconds of weightlessness as it dives toward Earth.

A NASA panel and Beggs will select the teacher who will make the six-day flight with crew members (commander) Francis Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ron McNair. A backup teacher will be chosen. Both will be picked by the end of this month, according to NASA.

Other finalists are:

Robert S. Foerster, 34, a sixth-grade math and computer instructor at Cumberland Elementary School, West Lafayette, Ind., who makes frequent speeches in his home state on computers as teaching aids.

Peggy J. Lathlaen, 34, an elementary school teacher at the Westwood School in Friendswood, Tex., where many of the astronauts who work at Johnson Space Center live.

David M. Marquart, 43, a business and computer science teacher at Boise High School in Idaho whoalso operates a ham radio.

Sharon Christa McAuliffe, 36, who teaches social studies at Concord High School in Concord, N.H.

Michael W. Metcalf, 39, a selectman in the town of Hardwick, Vt., who teaches government and geography to grades 7 through 12 at Hazen Union School in Hardwick.

Richard A. Methia, 40, poet, short-story writer and playwright who teaches English at New Bedford (Mass.) High School.

Barbara R. Morgan, 33, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University who teaches at the McCall-Donnelly Elementary School in McCall, Idaho.

Niki Mason Wenger, 45, who teaches gifted children in grades 7, 8 and 9 at Vandevender Junior High School in Parkersburg, W.Va.

Washington Post staff writers Barbara Carton, Elizabeth Hartigan, Desson Howe and Thomas O'Toole contributed to this report.