Faculty Highlight: Tom Binford P'13, '16, '20, Upper School Spanish

Faculty Highlight: Tom Binford P'13, '16, '20, Upper School Spanish

For more than 230 years, Friends School’s educational journey has equally emphasized the mastery of content with the mastery of essential skills required to succeed in the world - skills like critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and empathy - to name a few. Meet some of our outstanding faculty who guide our students through this journey each and every day.

Tom Binford, Upper School Spanish
M.A., Spanish Literature, University of Virginia; B.A., Spanish, Wabash College
At Friends since 1988

Q. Why did you choose Friends and/or what do you love about teaching at Friends?
A. I chose Friends School because I wanted to teach at a co-ed day school and not a single-sex boarding school. When I interviewed, I remember Head of School Byron Forbush '47 asking me what I knew about Quakerism. In fact, I knew little about the Quaker philosophy in 1988. In the years I have been at Friends School, I have since learned a lot about my own Quaker background. For example, my great-grandparents were practicing Quakers from central Indiana. They were active in the local meeting house near where my father grew up.

I love the daily interactions with my students and colleagues. There is a palpable sense of community that can be felt when I’m engaging students in the classroom. It’s a privilege watching my students absorb facts and learn to speak Spanish and, literally, grow up, intellectually, academically and physically, right in front of me. I have a front-row seat to some of the best and brightest in the next generation. Regarding my colleagues, I enjoy interacting with them when I’m simply walking through the halls on the way to the faculty lounge or when making copies. As a general rule, people are friendly, warm and engaging because they are happy to be there.                      

Q. What do you love about teaching your subject(s) in particular?
Teaching Spanish has afforded me the opportunity to share with my students many of the experiences I had as a young 20-something living in Spain almost 40 years ago! As a non-native, it is fun to recount those experiences of learning a new language and culture having been raised in a rural, midwestern sort of isolated town. I always tell people I had no business learning Spanish except for the fact that I fell in love with the process of communicating with people from another culture in another language. There was (is) something exotic and challenging and invigorating all at the same time. 

I have always loved the challenge of piecing my ideas together in a foreign language since I began the process in high school over 40 years ago. I still enjoy learning and finding creative ways to teach and reach my students. Over the years, folks have commented that I’m enthusiastic and that I have a quirky sense of humor. So be it! People that know me also recognize I have a heart for welcoming people to the process of learning a different language. I love teaching Spanish and the culture that goes with it. Something magical happens when a student begins to gain confidence in speaking and can work their way up the language proficiency scale. That magic is what wakes me up in the morning; I still enjoy being a part of that journey.  

Q. How do the Upper School curriculum and teaching at Friends School prepare students to be successful?
A. I feel that working at a Quaker school in particular teaches the students a lot more than just the subject matter. It’s more important to teach accountability, self-respect, the importance of service and respect for others. Rather than focusing on only Spanish, I feel like I’m helping to grow the whole child.

I have been fortunate to accompany many students to the Baltimore Station for the past 20 years where we serve a hot meal and talk with residents who are struggling with various forms of addiction. It’s wonderful bringing the students along and having them learn about a different way of seeing the world. In the Upper School, specifically, it’s wonderful to walk with the students through the scary journey of being an early teen, 14-15 years old, up to the point when they leave us and go to college at about 18 years old. I feel like our curriculum and multiple offerings of athletics, music, drama and clubs allows for a wide range of growth opportunities. Students can be a starter on an athletic team as well as have a part in the play or have a solo in the choral concert.  Collectively, all their experiences in the classroom, on the fields or serving at a local shelter help them to see the world in many different forms. 

Q. Something fun about you - a motto or hobby, perhaps?
A. I love drinking coffee in the morning. It has to be dark roast and, ideally, it needs to be freshly ground. Life is too short to drink bad coffee! 

In the warmer months, I enjoy golfing and getting out on the wide-open spaces of golf courses. I also enjoy hiking with my family in remote areas of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

My wife, Dahira Lievano-Binford '81, P'13, '16, '20 (who also teaches foreign language in the Upper School) and I do regular walks around our neighborhood. Sometimes we hike on trails of Northern Baltimore County or Harford County. When walking around the neighborhood, I’m always finding coins. I figure I can retire someday on that source of income!

I enjoy watching professional and collegiate sports year-round - baseball, football and basketball.

Dahira and I have been lucky to travel together, sometimes with students for the Spanish trips, and sometimes by ourselves. We have seen Mexico, Costa Rica, Spain and France together. Separately, I have been on 16 or 17 student trips to Spain, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Mexico since I began teaching high school students in 1987. It’s wonderful to see other parts of the world!