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MMS Teacher of the Year fulfilling dream

Mustang Middle School Teacher of the Year Jae Simmons has done a little bit of everything, worked every odd job. She met her husband at church and the pair got married when she was 18 and he was 22, during her first year of college. She followed him and his job until she was well into her 30s, finding a new career with each new location. She spent many years as a stay-at-home mom. She was a dark room technician processing x-rays. She was a school secretary, worked for her church, was a switchboard operator and a ballroom dance instructor. She still sings with a big band orchestra.

When she was 36, her husband suggested she return to school. There was no question what degree she would pursue. She knew she and her daughter couldn't financially afford to be in college at the same time, so Simmons accelerated her degree program. Taking 21 hours a semester, summer and interim classes, with three kids and two jobs, she finished her four-year degree in two.

"I worked nights at Walmart stocking shelves," she said. "I was a part time school secretary. I would go there, come home, fix dinner for my kids and then leave and go to work at Walmart doing end-caps until 1."

Twenty years after she graduated from high school, at 38-years-old, she took her first teaching job. Eighteen years later, her classrooms of middle schoolers are still a joy.

"It was a dream come true. I've always wanted to. I think it's innate. I think teachers have this extra chromosome. Instead of an XY, we have an XYZ. You're not happy doing anything else," she said. "I just love them. I guess I can match them sarcasm for sarcasm."

Simmons remembers one student at Mayfield Middle School, a tough little girl in a gang. Her wall of defensiveness was always up. The assignment was to write about their hero. This student couldn't think of one. Simmons bent down by her desk and asked if there wasn't somebody she knew who she would like to be like someday.

"All of a sudden that wall came down. We made eye contact and she said, 'You,'" Simmons said. "You had to throw a towel on the floor and sop me up because I melted right there. But I had to be calm. I said, 'Okay, write about that.' But for just that one brief moment ..."

She may teach a core subject but she wants them to learn to be decent human beings and have compassion for one another. She says she's teaching life lessons, thinly disguised as English and literature. She reminds them there will never be an age where you stop making mistakes, but fail forward, pick yourself up and try again.

With a raucous laugh that fills the room, she leads them through poetry with a little help from Frank Sinatra and David Bowie. They learn hyperbole by filling in the statement "Mrs. Simmons is so old that ..." Some answers have been memorable. One student filled in the blank with "She dated Fred Flintstone." At some point during the year, she takes them to the gym and teaches them the foxtrot as a special treat.

"I cannot imagine doing anything else," she said. "It's just very rewarding. I think of them as my kids. I worry about them. On my quiet time on the way to school every morning, I pray for them."

Simmons was selected as Mustang Middle School Teacher of the Year by her peers in the school. She will compete with 13 other site Teachers of the Year for the title of District Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced in March.

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