This is the first article in a series of profiles about each finalist for Virginia Beach City Public Schools’ 2022 Citywide Teacher of the Year. The citywide winner will be announced later this spring.
Barbara Besal has taught chemistry at First Colonial High School for 15 years, in the very same classrooms where she was once a student and graduated valedictorian of her class.
The Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) alumnae first worked for four years in a research laboratory at William & Mary before deciding that her home was not at the lab bench but in the classroom. She credits her former VBCPS teachers for helping her land where she is now, and she is proud to call one of her former chemistry mentors, Kathy Turner, her fellow educator now.
“Highly creative and full of a contagious enthusiasm for teaching, Barbara not only inspires her students, but her colleagues as well,” says Dr. Nancy Ferrell, principal of FC. “She encourages a freedom of thought and discussion on a broad range of topics not often covered in other classes, while fostering an environment where all students feel that their thoughts and opinions are important.”
A former student, Joseph Deneke, wrote of Besal’s passion in his recommendation to the Teacher of the Year committee. “Chemistry is obviously her life – she is smarter and more knowledgeable about her field and she can teach the material better than any college professor I have had. Coming into Chemistry as a high school student is scary and nerve-wracking, but Ms. Besal quickly changes these feelings and makes the subject enjoyable and beneficial for all students. Whether it be giving a lecture, making ice cream, blowing up hydrogen balloons, or creating molten iron from the fiery thermite reaction, Ms. Besal always makes the class intriguing, insightful, and fun.”
Besal believes that education is about impacting individuals: empowering them, uplifting them, challenging them, supporting them and shaping them into the people they will become. Because students “need more from (me) than just a chemistry lesson,” she participates in other school and community activities, such as serving as an announcer for sporting events, refereeing volleyball games for Special Olympics and the Old Dominion Region and managing FC’s Day of Service.
“I am, at my core, a problem solver,” Besal wrote in her Teacher of the Year application. “Niggling problems consume my attention and energy until I find the fix. What keeps me coming back to teaching is that I haven’t solved the problem yet. I haven’t perfected teaching. I make changes every year, sometimes incremental, sometimes holistic. But I haven’t cracked it. I’ll just have to keep trying.”