National Teacher of the Year

1990 National Teacher of the Year

NameJanis T. Gabay

School Information

School Address
Junipero Serra High SchoolSan Diego, CA
Teaching AreaEnglish
Teaching Level10,12

WASHINGTON, D.C. - April 4, 1990 - A California high school English instructor, chosen from among the nation's more than 2.5 million elementary and secondary public school teachers, has been named the 1990 National Teacher of the Year.

The award winner, Janis T. Gabay, 39, teaches at Junipero Serra High School in San Diego, California. She was honored today at a White House ceremony, at which President Bush presented her with a crystal apple, the traditional symbol of teaching.

The National Teacher of the Year Program is the oldest and most prestigious awards program to focus public attention on excellence in teaching. The program, now in its 39th year, is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. "I am honored to be named National Teacher of the Year," Gabay said. "However, I consider myself only a representative of the nation's many good teachers."

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1953, when her birthplace was still a Territory of the United States, young Jan eschewed the usual girlhood dreams of being a sparkling tap dancer, a child wonder at the piano, or the star trooper of the Brownies. Instead, her childhood dream, as reflected in her play habits, was to become- a teacher. "Together with my younger sister," she recalls, "I 'played school,' spreading my collection of books over the hardpacked dirt outside our house, mimicking the wonderful activities my kindergarten teacher led us through each morning. Naturally, as the older sister, I was the automatic choice for who would play 'Teacher.'"

Playing a vital role in the fulfillment of Jan's dreams were her father, a 30-year veteran, and her mother, who although without college degrees, gave Jan their love for books and learning. When the family moved to San Diego, Jan continued her education there, earning her bachelor's and master's degrees in English from San Diego State University in 1972 and 1978, respectively.

She has been a teacher for 17 years, the past ten years teaching tenth and twelfth grade English at San Diego's Junipero Serra High School, which has an enrollment of 1,800 students. In passing on her love of writing and literature to her students and colleagues, she considers "the entire range of human experience" her province. "I offer my students as many ideas as I can by showing them through literature that there is nothing that has not already been felt, experienced or thought; but much to be discovered in a new way," she says.

What accounts for Gabay's effectiveness and success, however, are her original and innovative instructional methods which, as she says, have "moved the learning in the classroom beyond its four walls." For example, in 1983 she helped organize a program with the San Diego Union, in which students review -- for pay -- children's and young adult books. "We get the books each fall, and the kids have their reviews ready to go to press in time for readers to do their Christmas shopping," says Gabay. In another writing project, she encourages students to go out into the ethnically and economically diverse surrounding community to study the people, buildings, animals and landscape - in fact, whatever they see - and to gather stories. The results, says Gabay, are rich, realistic character sketches, stories, and poetry, which are published in La Pluma, the award-winning campus magazine for which she is the faculty advisor.

Several years ago, she also helped initiate a writer's forum where teachers at her school -- no matter what subject they taught -- could address their across-the-curriculum concerns about writing. As a result, all the teachers at Junipero Serra High School now meet several times a year to evaluate students' writing and their own. "I endeavor to maintain a professional network of support among my colleagues," she says. "I give presentations, open my classroom to fellow teachers, and give positive feedback when colleagues share strategies that work for them."

"Education affects me as a whole person," Gabay says. But that doesn't mean schoolwork consumes all her time. To experience the spiritual and social "Wholeness" that she says comes from being a "contributing member of society," she does volunteer work at her church and local art museum. In her role as National Teacher of the Year, which will have her traveling across the country to speak before numerous educational and business groups and civic organizations, she will stress the importance of all sectors of the community working together to bring about a quality education for America's children.

"I would promote the idea that schools, parents, business and industry and other elements of the community can forge a focused alliance to meet the needs of our children," she says. "I would call for the marshaling of every community resource, and let our citizens know that what our schools do is critical to our society, our economy and the preservation of our republic itself."

The other finalists in the 1990 National Teacher of the Year Program were Rachel S. Moreno, a Spanish teacher at Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, AZ; Billy Dean Nave, Jr., from the River Valley Alternative School in Winthrop, ME; and Maria McAlister Pyles, a social studies teacher at Greenwood High School in Greenwood, SC.

Jan Gabay's Thoughts on Teaching