In 1978, newly arrived at Teachers College from Trinidad, Eleanor Armour-Thomas encountered the famous psychologist Edmund Gordon.

“I was so anxious and befuddled,” Armour-Thomas (Ed.D. ’84) recalled at a recent ceremony honoring Gordon. “And then here comes Dr. Gordon in his dashiki and beard, and he says, ‘Young lady, may I help you?’”

Today Armour-Thomas, Professor of Educational Psychology at Queens College, is an authority on mathematics learning and assessment. Often working with Gordon, now 98, she has addressed an aspect of the United States that still “befuddles” her: the prevailing “deficit perspective” of the two-tiered U.S. education system, which defines “different” as “lesser.”

“In Trinidad, all children had free education up to college,” she says. “We all had equal opportunities to excel.”

In an ongoing quest to help teachers assess their impact, Armour- Thomas has characterized what successful learning behavior looks like.

In a 2009 study of middle school students doing group work, she and her colleagues identified “metacognitive” behaviors (conscious analyses of approaches and strategies) essential for successful problem solving. And in the textbook Becoming a Reflective Mathematics Teacher: A Guide for Observations and Self-Assessment (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), Armour-Thomas and coauthors advise new math teachers to “continually question your teaching” to prompt “sustainable changes in both your thinking and classroom practice.”

Yet there is one principle that Armour-Thomas has never questioned: “Those of us with the skills to help others attain a good life have an obligation to do so. And for me, that comes from Dr. Gordon. It’s his vision of a principled life.”