Mary Gordon, a local teacher of the blind and visually impaired who literally has taken her students to new heights, is the Lawrence school district's Master Teacher for 1993.
Gordon is the district's nominee for the Kansas Master Teacher award, which Emporia State University has presented to Kansas educators since 1954. Seven 1993 Master Teachers will be named in March.
Gordon started working in the Lawrence school district in 1955 as a junior high school physical education teacher. She left the district in 1957 but returned in 1962.
In 1968, she was approached about helping the district start a program for the blind and visually impaired.
"That sounded interesting, so I started doing that," Gordon said, adding that soon after she was certified at the University of Northern Colorado to teach the visually impaired.
"My philosophy, from the beginning of my work with disabled students, has been to assure my students the opportunity to learn everything that their sighted peers do," Gordon said.
THAT OFTEN requires turning class handouts, graphs, maps and other instructional devices into large print, Braille or some sort of a tactile display. And that often requires Gordon to be pretty creative.
To teach blind students about atoms, she has stuck quilt pins into styrofoam balls, with the pins representing electrons, protons and neutrons.
To teach students about the constellations, she has attached fuzzy balls to the underside of an umbrella, which when twirled can show students how the constellations revolve around the North Star.
And to show students exactly what a mountain is, she took a group of them skiing in Colorado in 1978. She said having students feel a model of a mountain and telling them about skiing just wasn't enough.
"One of the things I'm really obsessed about is teaching kids real concepts," Gordon said. "A lot of times you use a model, and, if you're not careful, you teach a misconception."
The ski trip turned into an annual event, and on March 20 a group of students will be heading to Aspen, Colo., for Gordon's 16th trip.
Mindy Knepp, a 1990 graduate of Lawrence High School and now a junior at Kansas University, is still tagging along. Her first ski trip with Gordon was when she was in kindergarten.
GORDON would get Knepp's vote for the Master Teacher honor.
"She's really creative, and she's really giving," Knepp said, adding that Gordon would often stay with her after school when she was applying for college scholarships.
Knepp said Gordon even has helped her and her guide dog find some of Knepp's classes at KU.
Lisa Thompson, another of Gordon's former students, invited Gordon on a trip to the White House in 1990 when Thompson was presented an award by President George Bush. Thompson also invited her mother, Doris Thompson.
Lisa Thompson described her two invitees as "the woman who brought me into the world, and the woman who made me what I am today."