Nancy Gibbs' coworkers say she is such a good music teacher that even the sixth-grade boys like her class.
Such a feat is just one of the reasons Fairfax County last week named Gibbs Teacher of the Year. A music teacher at Wolf Trap Elementary School in Vienna, Gibbs was selected out of an estimated 7,000 Fairfax teachers to represent the county as its nominee for Virginia's Teacher of the Year award. At 28, she has been teaching only four years, but her exuberance and talent in the classroom have not gone unnoticed.
"Our staff readily recognized Nancy's good work and nominated her," said Nancy Poole, principal at Wolf Trap.
What Poole and the staff see on any given day is a teacher in the middle of a pack of students, moving to the music, encouraging them, singing with them.
"I came into a staff where the people are really excited about what they're doing, and where the kids are excited," Gibbs said. "I am impressed with the knowledge of the students in the elementary level . . . and enjoy watching the kids get turned on to music and being happy about what they're doing."
At the first-grade session one afternoon last week, the children walked into a classroom filled with drums of all kinds, sticks and blocks, a piano and a guitar. The walls were decorated with Pac-man figures running about and a few posters reminded the students of the rules: "Always try," "Listen to each other," and "Only play when asked."
Class began with a clapping exercise to warm up and establish rhythm, then Gibbs took out her guitar and the class sang a few patriotic songs. They have movement drills in which the children imitate the movements of trees, the wind and the sun. Then they made the sounds of the elements and together acted out stories of the sun, the wind and the traveler. They played musical games in a circle, danced around each other and the teacher was in the middle of it all, singing the loudest. "Okay," Gibbs said, "come to a little blob by my chair, please." The children followed close behind her, "Blob, blob, blob," and they flopped down for more games and exercises.
Gibbs' lessons are not tied to books or the teacher's manual. She shuns what she calls the "open your book, let's sing" method of music instruction. When she was a student teacher in Pennsylvania, she said, it was standard practice to show a film strip every day. "I never liked those film strips," she said.
Gibbs does not consider herself a superb teacher, nor is she satisfied with what she does, even though she puts a lot into her work. "I make mistakes daily. This award will make me work harder," she said.
Gibbs is a native of Arlington who returned to the area in 1979 after getting a master's degree in music education at the University of Georgia.
Along with a plaque from the county, Gibbs was honored by the School Board at a meeting last week where she received a dozen roses and an apple from each board member. She will accompany school officials on a trip to Japan later in the year. She also finds herself invited to speak before clubs and to participate in teacher-training sessions, she said.
Even though it is still September, it has been a busy school year for Gibbs. Her students performed at the gala opening of the International Children's Festival at Wolf Trap theater over Labor Day weekend.
Gibbs' initial reaction to receiving the award was shock. Now she says "it's neat to be recognized throughout the county."
Principal Poole summed up the feelings voiced by a number of her colleagues: "She has an obvious love of music. She shares her love with the students and they return it."