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Mary Weaver, principal at Lincoln Trail Elementary School, put it best when she dubbed retiring fifth-grade teacher, Joan Jordan, an “icon” at the school.
“She’s been here the longest and shows commitment to this building and this district,” Weaver said. “She’s a leader of staff and has maintained extremely high standards for the kids and worked to help them achieve those standards.”
Neighboring fifth-grade teacher, Linda Meachum, who has worked with Jordan for 25 years and serves as co-president with Jordan with the Mahomet-Seymour teachers’ union, agreed and said: “She has been a rock in this district.”
“She really has. She is so knowledgeable, and she’s an excellent teacher,” Meachum continued. “I think the two of us together have had a bad rep, but that’s because we step out of our comfort zone, and we stand up for those who may not know how to communicate their message. She’s a great communicator. She’s a great educator. I appreciate all of the time we’ve spent together throughout these years. We’re very close. She’s certainly been a model for me.”
After 38 years, Jordan will say goodbye to her colleagues and classroom this year, but her mark will not be forgotten.
“Because I’ve stayed in one place, I’m very (near) the third generation of kids to have gone through,” Jordan said. “It’s just been an amazing adventure to watch where my very first class of fifth-graders are now, what they have done. And I’ve had their children.”
“I said, ‘The first kid who walked in here and said you were my grandma’s teacher, or my grandpa’s teacher, I was quitting,” she joked. “And I was dangerously close.”
But while she did not quite hit that third-generation mark, she said teaching has been fulfilling and exciting.
Jordan said parents have come up to her and said, “I need to thank you because of my child. They were with you, and they learned how to be a student. They’ve been a great student ever since.”
“That’s the part that remains with you,” she said.
But as co-president of the union, Jordan has had her fair share of criticisms, too.
“There are people who run my name down in this town,” she said.
On hearing her name community members may conjure up images of the tall 5’10” woman with short blonde, curly hair and a booming voice heard most loudly during teacher union negotiations.
But Jordan says she wasn’t always that way.
“Unlike what you see now … I was a very timid child and very quiet,” she said.
She grew up in Bondville, the oldest of five. Her parents were Jim and Judy Gumbel. Judy still lives in Bondville; Jim has since passed.
Jordan said she grew up with a father who drank a lot and would sometimes get angry.
“I’d say to mom, ‘Why don’t we leave?’ And she’d say, ‘Where am I going to go with no job and five kids?’”
From that moment, Jordan knew she would never let herself be in that position.
“I swear to you I did not realize until I was in my 40s what had driven me, but I was never going to be left to raise my children and broke, and not be able to getaway,” Jordan said.
So she worked hard to start a career, and teaching seemed to be the most logical choice.
“As I was growing up, I had four younger brothers, so I played school with them all the time. In my play as a child, I loved being a teacher,” she said. “So, I’ve been practicing to be a teacher since I can remember.”
Jordan also loves teachers’ tools such as pens and books. And mainly, she just liked school and learning.
“When I came home from school, I always had to peel the potatoes from the time I could stand up to the sink,” Jordan said. “My dad was a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and he raised the potatoes. So, while I was peeling potatoes, I would tell my mother everything that went on at school, and bless her heart, she listened to all of it. That was always time for us. I would learn in school, and then I would reinforce that learning by telling her.”
Jordan and her four younger brothers all went to college or a technician school. She received her bachelor’s in 1973 from the University of Illinois. Right out of college, Bob Sinclair, the principal at Lincoln Trail at the time, hired the 22-year-old, then-brunette Jordan. Jordan went on to get her master’s a few years ago.
Jordan got involved with the union her first year with the school, serving as a committee member and secretary before becoming president in 1978. She served in different capacities for several years and is again serving as co-president with Meachum.
Jordan built a life here in Mahomet, marrying her late husband, Tom Jordan in 1979. He died in 1998 of cancer. She raised all three of her children here: Michael, 29, Stephen, 27, and Lauren, 22.
In her retirement, Jordan plans on sleeping in, doing a little traveling and gardening.
She also plans to help with union negotiations through the summer as needed.