Mr. Binford Fell In Love Twice

When Spanish teacher Tom Binford retires at the end of this school year, he’ll say goodbye to the place where he pursued his first great love – and met his second.
After 36 years at Friends, beloved Spanish teacher Tom Binford plans to retire at the end of this year.
After 36 years at Friends, beloved Spanish teacher Tom Binford plans to retire at the end of this year.
Asher Blakeley

For 36 years, Tom Binford has been a pillar of the Friends School community. He found his passion teaching Spanish here. But Spanish wasn’t always on his radar.

“I’m kind of novel because I didn’t start Spanish early in life, like people who often are very good,” Binford said. “The more you get it at an early age, the better off you are. And all the research says it’s true.” 

Binford didn’t start learning the language until freshman year at his Indiana high school.

“But then I did fall in love, and really enjoyed it,” he said. “I just loved trying to speak new things, listening to new words, picking up bits and pieces.” 

A bulletin board in Binford’s classroom is covered with mementos of the more than three decades he has spent teaching Spanish here. (Asher Blakeley)

After four years of high school Spanish, he was awarded a college scholarship for his Spanish abilities. Binford attended Wabash College, near his hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana. His junior year, he went abroad to Spain, and spent the year living with two different families and making friends. 

By the time he returned to America, he was fluent. He applied to graduate schools, and settled at the University of Virginia. While a student there, he taught Spanish classes in return for a stipend. 

After getting his masters degree in Spanish Language and Literature, he began his 38-year career in education.

“I was hired to teach a semester course at a local college called Sweet Briar College,” he said. “I taught at UVA, but I hadn’t taught that kind of class. It was out of my comfort zone being a grad student. And so here I was, all by myself, independent.” 

After working multiple substitute, part-time, and full-time jobs, he landed at Friends School in 1988 as a part-time Spanish teacher.

“And that’s where I’ve been ever since,” he said. 

The school immediately left its mark on him. It’s here that he met his wife, Dahira. She was a French and Spanish teacher who started the same year as Mr. Binford. They began to get closer while planning and co-teaching a Spanish class, and eventually started a relationship. After dating for just a year, they married in 1989.

“We met. We fell in love. We got married within a year. It was great,” he said.

They have been together ever since, sharing their entire Friends School career. The couple had three sons, two of whom graduated from Friends. For years, the sign on their shared classroom door read “Los Binfords.”

Mrs. Binford retired at the end of the 2022-23 school year, and Mr. Binford is set to retire at the end of the 2023-24 school year.

Fellow Spanish teacher Lucy Hand witnessed the Binfords’ relationship for the past quarter century.

Thanks to Binford’s leadership of Hunger Committee and UNICEF Club, generations of Friends students have deepened their connections to Baltimore, and their engagement with global issues, through volunteer work. (Asher Blakeley)

“It’s always been really fun to see them together and to hang out with [them], because they’re very sweet together and they always are super kind and friendly and just generous and affectionate people. I think they bring out the best in each other,” she said. “It’s been really great having them part of the department, and we’ll miss them a lot.”

Hand has taught alongside the Binfords ever since she came to Friends in 1998. She says she they developed a strong connection, filled with fond memories, including of the trips to Spain and Argentina they chaperoned together.

“Those trips have really kind of encapsulated our joy and why we teach,” said Hand. “Taking kids abroad and seeing them interact with the culture has always brought us great joy.”

In his 36 years at Friends, Mr. Binford has been a part of 17 language immersion trips to Spain, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Mexico. He has taught generations of Friends students, including three parent-child pairs, and many adults on the Friends campus, including baseball program coordinator Robbie Miller ’08, Middle School geography teacher Erika Smith ‘93, and Director of Marketing and Communications Christine Pappas ‘01.

Ben Jacobs ‘24 is another of Binford’s former students – and fans.

He had great energy. He really focused on making the class interactive,” said Ben, who had Binford two years ago, for Spanish IV. “It helped me stay active, stay engaged.”

One of Binford’s favorite traditions is to walk with his classes to Starbucks to get coffee as a reward for hard work, or as a break from the stresses of school.

“My favorite memories are easily the Starbucks trips,” said Ben. 

Outside of the classroom, Binford’s friendly presence is felt throughout the hallways.

“He teaches my sister now, and I still talk to him in the hall when I see him,” Ben said. “He’s engaged with the overall Friends community, not just the people in his class. He likes to keep his relationships going.”

Binford is also active with multiple major clubs at Friends, acting as the faculty advisor to Hunger Committee and UNICEF Club. Another of his former students, Ryanne Brown ‘24, leads Hunger Committee this year.

“He’s eccentric and fun,” Ryane said. “It’s especially fun to work with him outside of class.”

The outgoing, enthusiastic Spanish teacher is sure to be missed come his retirement at the end of this year.

“I’m very proud of my career here,” Binford reflected.

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  • M

    Martha YoderJan 29, 2024 at 8:17 am

    My brother, Tomas’, is the best. Bravo!