Disney Teacher Shelves Beakers, Tubes, Bunsen Burner

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One of Payson's most celebrated teachers and the only local educator to win the prestigious Walt Disney American Teacher award has retired.

At the conclusion of the school year, Gloria Joe -- a Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade science teacher since 1980 -- opted to take her retirement saying it was time to step away.

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Gloria Joe, Michelle Gibbar and Nicole Ward made up part of the eighth-grade Visionary team at Rim Country Middle School. Joe, one of the district's most acclaimed teachers, retired at the end of the school year.

By retiring, she realizes there will be some regrets.

"I'll really miss my colleagues. They are the finest people in the world," she said. "They are fun, clever, kind and in teaching for the right reasons."

She also has a soft spot in her heart for the students.

"Kids are so funny, I won't miss the paperwork and the grief, but I'll miss the kids," she said.

During her career in Payson, Joe estimates she taught more than 3,000 students, many of whom were second-generation students of hers.

"When I had Whitney Hardt (four years ago), I kept noticing how much she was like her mother (Ellie Teach)," Joe said. "It was kind of exciting being around long enough to teach a second generation of kids."

Some former students have even returned to teach alongside Joe at the middle school.

Nicole (Dudley) Ward, who graduated from what was then Payson Junior High School in 1984, taught eighth-grade math last year on the same Visionary team with Joe.

"She is and was an inspiration every single day," Ward said.

"She is always thinking what's best for kids."

Michelle Gibbar, a language arts teacher on the Visionary team, was an understudy of Joe's.

"My relationship with Gloria started as her being my mentor teacher when I arrived in 1998," she said. "She welcomed me and helped me when I was trying to get a handle on teaching."

Last year, Gibbar took over team leader responsibilities from Joe.

Disney honors flow Payson way

The high point of Joe's teaching career might have occurred in 1990 when she was named a Walt Disney American Science Teacher of the Year and invited to Hollywood for an Oscars-like ceremony emceed by actor John Voight.

After being selected for the award, television crews visited Joe's classroom for a day of filming her working with students.

At the Hollywood ceremony, a six-minute clip of that day was shown to the audience and later broadcast on the Walt Disney television channel.

She remembers the entire experience as dream-like and a heralded event a celebrity might be a part of.

The long list of Joe's other accomplishments reads like a who's who in science.

In 2001, she was named Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year and given a $500 gift certificate. She used it to purchase fellow teachers classroom equipment not available in the usual school budget.

She is a two-time winner of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Math Teaching and also has been the Arizona Science Teacher Association Teacher of the Year. She served a term as the president of the Arizona Science Teacher Association and was a 15-year member of the ASTA board of directors.

Her efforts have earned the school several grants, the largest of which was for $12,000 from the GTE corporation.

Over the years, she was invited to attend several science institutes including the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Fellowship held on the campus of Princeton University. She also was chosen for institutes at the University of California at Berkeley, Miami University in Florida, San Jose State and San Diego State.

In the middle school format, she served as a team leader and was active on several school councils.

Never afraid to voice her opinion if she thought it was in the best interest of children, Joe built a reputation as a teacher advocate and a key staff member.

Joe attributes much of her teaching success to the support of former RCMS principal Bill Lawson, now the district curriculum coordinator.

"I couldn't have done it without his guidance and support," Joe said.

Lawson is lavish in his praise of Joe, "She was one of my best hires.

"She epitomizes the life-long learner -- her professional development has never stopped."

The road to Payson

After graduating from UCLA in 1962 with a BA in zoology, Joe began her teaching career at King Junior High School in Los Angeles.

Among her students was a youngster named Lance Ito. He later became a lawyer, judge and, in front of a nationwide television audience, presided over the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

Joe and her husband, Victor, eventually moved to Dubuque, Iowa where he attended Presbyterian Church seminary school.

From there, they relocated to Honolulu, Hawaii where Victor pastored his first church and Joe was a full-time mother of the couple's two children.

Victor's work eventually took the two to San Diego, and to Payson in 1976.

In retirement, Joe hopes to do some traveling, but first on her agenda is a bit of housework.

"I'm going to clean out my garage, it has almost 30 years of stuff in it," she said.

When asked what her advice would be to a first-year middle school/junior high teacher hoping to become an effective educator, she replied, "Never turn your back on them, they are always doing something."

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