Jennifer Gibbs of Jefferson Junior High School and Drucilla Clark of both Smothers Elementary and River Terrace School, were the runners-up for the District's Teacher of the Year award, which was presented recently to Carolyn Pinckney of Bunker Hill Elementary School.

"I just can't help myself, when you have been trying to teach a child a skill for six months and then in that seventh month they grasp it -- well that's the most wonderful feeling in the whole world," said Jennifer Gibbs, explaining her reason for teaching.

"I just like to see them learn and grow."

Gibbs, who teaches eighth- and ninth-grade English at Jefferson Junior High School in Southwest, was among 30 District public school teachers nominated by students, other teachers and administrators for this year's Teacher of the Year title.

She was named first runner-up.

Jefferson, at Eighth and H streets SW, is recognized as one of the two best junior high schools in the city. It was one of the first secondary schools in the District to surpass the national average in standardized test scores. And statistics show that is has done so consistently.

It is open to students from around the city and often is used as an alternative to private or parochial schools.

Gibbs, 38, and single, has been at Jefferson since 1969. A native of Florida, she came to Washington in 1965 to attend Howard University. After graduating, she worked as a substitute teacher at Jefferson.

Later she taught children with adjustment problems, and she also worked as a coordinator for the now defunct Title 1 program, a federally funded project designed to enhance the reading and math skills of underprivileged students.

In 1979 Gibbs was promoted to peer assistant teacher and her chief responsibility became instructing other teachers in special educational skills. But after only one year in the new job, Gibbs decided to return to the classroom.

"I get more pleasure out of teaching students than teachers," Gibbs said. "Students are more open to constructive criticism and I like to see them learn."

Her students give her high marks.

"She lets you know that she cares . . . . when you have a problem, she wants to know about it; she'll talk it out with you, not too many other teachers do that," said Ricky Hessler, 15.

Another student, Lorne Prince, 14, said Gibbs is always fair. "Even if we get an F from her, she'll explain why we failed and then she'll take the time and go over the material until we know it better . . . even if she has to stay after school to teach us."

Gibbs' classroom reflects the high goals she sets for her students. Her eye-catching bulletin board includes a heading, "Strivers for Excellence." Below are displayed the test papers of eight students who scored 95 or higher.

Michael Hammond, the assistant principal for Smothers Elementary and River Terrace Community School, has a nickname for Drucilla Clark. It's "Sunshine."

"That's because she's sometimes like a burst of sunshine," said Hammond. "I sometimes come in feeling a little crabby, but as soon as I see Mrs. Clark she's always smiling and telling me about all the positive things I should be thinking about.

"I just can't emphasize how much more she does for all the people in this school other than her job," he added.

Clark, 55, is following the tradition of her mother who taught school for 40 years in Virginia -- with many of those years spent in New Kent, west of Richmond.

"My mother used to take me to school with her all the time," Clark said with emotion in her voice. "Back then she had to do everything, make the fire, cook the lunch, and sometimes get the children to school. She was so dedicated to those children. I was only 8 years old when I realized that I wanted to teach -- just like my mother."

Her enthusiasm remains and it helped win the second runner-up honors in the teacher contest.

"It's a feeling that sometimes you can't describe," Clark said with a sparkle of delight in her eyes, "but teaching sure is wonderful."

She teaches reading in kindergarten through third grade, at two schools that are surrounded by a working-class neighborhood of modest single-family houses, most of which are owner-occupied.

Clark, who lives in Maryland, is married and has 12 children. She first taught school in Northumberland County, Va., for five years before moving to Washington in 1956 where she began teaching at Kimball Elementary School, at Minnesota Avenue and Ely Place SE. She has been teaching at Smothers for 17 years.

Creative and colorful displays, or letters and works to help students with their vocabulary, brightened Clark's pale-yellow second-floor classroom.

Both Clark and Gibbs enjoy their work, but both said that teachers are not given the respect and credibility they deserve.

"I would like to see the day when teachers are respected and revered as much as other professions that do well . . . . We are overworked and underpaid, but we must not give up because we need to continue to educate our children," Gibbs said.

Clark added, "If it weren't for teachers, then there would be no doctors, lawyers and astronauts. I still hold my head high and I'm very proud to be a teacher."