During the spring of 2020, Christina Gauss received outstanding news. She was not permitted to announce it at the time, but Gauss, who teaches Spanish at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, was told her hard work and purpose as an educator was being recognized by a statewide organization.
Recently, Gauss was able share the news she received months ago when it was announced to the public she has been named Monmouth County’s Teacher of the Year for 2020-21 by the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA).
A virtual ceremony that was held on Aug. 26 revealed the names of the educators from around New Jersey who have been honored by the NJSBA for the current academic year.
“It’s a very special recognition and I am so grateful and humble to be named Teacher of the Year,” Gauss said in an interview. “I am happy to represent Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School and the Monmouth Education Association.”
“As a teacher, you become what you surround yourself with. My students, fellow teachers and the World Language Department inspire me to be the best educator I can be and have supported me in so many different ways,” she said.
Gauss is the first teacher from the regional high school or from the Rumson School District or the Fair Haven Public Schools to be named the NJSBA’s Monmouth County Teacher of the Year.
She was honored as the high school’s Teacher of the Year for 2019-20 and was encouraged by Superintendent of Schools Debra Gulick to apply for the Monmouth County Teacher of the Year honor.
Gauss took up Gulick’s suggestion and submitted an application for the honor that included a 10-page essay.
Gauss has been passionate about the Spanish language and the culture of Spain since she traveled to Barcelona, Spain, when she was in high school. In college, she traveled to Mexico to visit her sister who was working for a nonprofit organization.
Gauss returned to Spain to study for a semester during her junior year in college. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and international relations from Bucknell University and a secondary education certification from Millersville University, before earning a master’s degree in Spanish from Rutgers University.
Gauss said she chose to teach because she wanted to help students learn more about different cultures and linguistics. Doing so can broaden their education and help them when they enter a profession.
During the first five years of her career, Gauss taught at Lancaster County Day School in Lancaster, Pa. She then taught at Ridge High School in Somerset County for three years.
Gauss came to Rumson-Fair Haven Regional in 2000 and said she takes the school’s mission statement – “Our mission is to empower all of our students with the tools to find their passions and thrive as knowledgeable, confident, resilient, creative and compassionate citizens of a global community” – to heart.
“I’m a lifelong learner. It’s a passion of mine to share my experiences and teach my students tools to help them get to the next stage of their schooling and find their own passions,” she said.
Gauss left teaching in 2004 to raise her three children, but she remained abreast of what was going on in Spanish culture by communicating with friends in Spain and researching how foreign languages were continuing to be taught.
When she returned to the high school in 2009, Gauss admits it was a “culture shock” at first; learning technology platforms teachers were using, but she eventually got up to speed.
“We are taking more of a communicative approach, working on cultural and linguistic tools students can use in the real world,” Gauss said. “Cultural competence helps engage students more and will help them participate in a more global society.”
Gauss said the teachers in the World Language Department work cooperatively to come up with ideas to use with their students.
Seth Herman, the supervisor of World Languages, Fine and Performing Arts, Financial Literacy and English as a Second Language, has worked with Gauss at the high school and was thrilled when he heard she had been honored by the NJSBA.
The two educators have taken students on trips to Guatemala, Spain and Peru, and Herman said he and Gauss have hosted international students.
“This is the recognition of all the years of hard work she has put in,” Herman said. “She works with a purpose at home and at school. She instills concepts in all phases to help students learn about the Spanish language and its culture. Everything she does in the classroom is geared around helping students become true global citizens.”
Gauss was recognized for her accomplishment by the Board of Education on Sept. 1. She was honored by her fellow educators during a professional development day.
“The community has done an amazing job highlighting my accomplishments,” Gauss said. “Former students, teachers and colleagues have reached out to me to congratulate me on the honor. I’m just in awe of it all.”
In 2017, Gauss was named the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese National Outstanding Teacher of the Year. She has spoken at conferences across the United States and overseas, and serves on the boards of many Spanish and foreign language organizations.
She said she uses those platforms as a way to highlight the work teachers around the world are doing to educate students about different languages and cultures.
“I want to highlight the work everyone else is doing. We are all in this together,” Gauss said.
As she looks back at 20 years in the profession, Gauss is pleased she chose to become a teacher. She said she is looking forward to continuing to share her passion about different cultures with young people.
“It has been an amazing ride,” she said. “Being a lifelong learner, I enjoy finding innovative ways to engage with students and teach them. It has been a great experience and I am really enjoying it.”