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The Franklin News-Post
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310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
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English teacher retiring after 42 years
Drew Gibbons chosen as magazine’s ‘best teacher’
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Staff Photo by Stacey Hairston: Drew Gibbons has been named “Best Teacher” by Roanoker Magazine. Above she holds her award while sitting at her desk, which was willed to her by former social studies teacher Joe Shively. The desk is covered with pictures of students, past and present.

Monday, June 2, 2014


Drew Gibbons just graded her last paper and is about to end her 42-year tenure with Franklin County public schools.

"Grading papers is one of few things I will not miss," said Gibbons, who recently received a 2014 Platinum Award after being voted "Best Teacher" by readers of Roanoker Magazine.

The award is just one of many bestowed over the years upon Gibbons, an Advanced Placement (AP) English teacher at Franklin County High School.

She was named Virginia Teacher of the Year in 2011 for English by the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI). The NMSI awards are presented annually to outstanding AP math, science and English teachers for remarkable contributions to their students as well as the teaching profession.

She was the AP English lead teacher for Franklin County and VASS (Virginia Advanced Studies Strategies), which administered the county's AP grant.

Gibbons is also the recipient of six different presidential citations for the Governor's School for Visual and Performing Arts and was Teacher of the Year for Franklin County for the 1993-94 school year.

Gibbons began her career in 1972 when the county had a junior high school. The principal at the time was the late Morris Law, who hired her to teach eighth-grade English.

Gibbons said she fell in love with teaching on her very first day on the job, even though she had no intentions of teaching for very long.

"I only took the job for a 10-month paycheck," said Gibbons. "Mr. Law hired me without a teaching degree or anything else. I wasn't even certified. After teaching for three years, I became certified. I believe if the Lord makes you a teacher, you teach."

Gibbons taught English to eighth-graders for 16 years, including several years at Benjamin Franklin Middle School once it was built in the late 70s.

In 1988, she moved to the high school, where she has taught English in all four grade levels, AP English Literature and drama.

Besides serving as English department chair at both the middle and the high school, Gibbons has devoted much of her time to theater, producing numerous shows at the high school. She produced and directed after-school theaters, "Broadway on the Blackwater" and "The Theater Company" with the help of Susan Montgomery.

Gibbons has also been co-chair of the Southwest Virginia English-Speaking Union's Shakespeare Competition. She is a veteran of the Shakespeare competition, having studied Shakespeare at Oxford University and the Globe Theater in England during her career as a teacher.

Gibbons was also a TESA (teacher expectation student achievement) instructor at the high school a few years ago.

"I don't know what we will do without her," said FCHS Principal Debora Decker. "We are going to miss her beyond belief."

"I never married or had kids of my own," said Gibbons, "My students became my kids."

Gibbons has done most of her teaching behind a very old desk that was willed to her by former social studies teacher Joe Shively, who was willed the desk by retired teacher Elsie Turner.

The desk is covered with pictures of Gibbons' students past and present.

"I'll be sending this desk on to Mary Edwards," said Gibbons. "I taught her in eighth and 10th-grade English classes and also on the yearbook staff. She's like the daughter I never had."

When Gibbons speaks of the changes that have taken place in schools over a span of 42 years, she pinpoints the addition of SOLs and the decline of the American family as some of the major changes.

"SOLs have become so huge," said Gibbons. "Teachers don't have much of a chance to do the things they want to do with the students. And the kids of today are so different from the kids of 40 years ago. It's like being on a completely different planet."

Gibbons cites the brokenness of today's society and family dynamic as a major player in today's different style of teaching.

"Kids have to deal with stuff people don't understand or have a clue about," she said. "In 1972, there was no internet, smart phones or video games. Assignments would be completed on time and homework would be done. Because there are so many distractions, from technology to home life, kids don't have or take the time to do what is needed at home."

Though Gibbons is a native of Roanoke and a graduate of Patrick Henry High School, she said she never considered taking a teaching position in her hometown.

"I love the people here," she said. "It has been a good fit for me."

Gibbons earned a bachelor's degree as an English and history major at Emory and Henry College and a Master of Arts in liberal studies from from Hollins University. She also completed her graduate studies at Exeter College at Oxford University in the English novel program.

Gibbons said she loves to travel and hopes to do more of that now that she is retiring. She has a celebration trip to Paris planned for July, a trip to New England in the fall and plans to visit Aruba in January.

She said she has already visited many different countries, but she plans to add many more to that list.

"I would absolutely love to go back to Israel," said Gibbons.

Gibbons also plans to continue her work with the Roanoke Rescue Mission, the homebound ministry at First Baptist Church in Roanoke, as well as her membership with the church choir, in which she has sang her entire life.

"I think I will try to get back into theater some, as well," she said.

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