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Greenville teacher up for national award

Joann Simmons
November 5, 2018 10:04 pm

GREENVILLE — A Greenville Middle School teacher with a long career at the school has been nominated for a national award.

Joann Simmons, who teaches sixth grade social studies, was nominated for the 2018-19 National LifeChanger of the Year award by former student Audrey Matott, who Simmons mentored through personal obstacles, according to a statement from the National Life Group Foundation — the organization that sponsors the award.

“She is a beautiful, gracious legend of a teacher and I will never be able to thank her enough for all the good she has done,” Matott said. “The best I can do is to try to give what she gave me back to the world.”

The award recognizes and rewards the best teachers, from kindergarten through 12th grade, and school district employees across the country who are making a difference in students’ lives by representing excellence, positive influence and leadership, according to the National Life Group Foundation. Seventeen awards will be presented during the 2018-19 school year.

Simmons, who has taught for 44 years, was surprised and touched by the note and cried after reading it, she said.

“You always hope you make a difference in kids’ lives,” Simmons said. “It was very unexpected and sweet.”

Simmons and other teachers have worked together to make it a good experience for the students, especially those who are transitioning from elementary school to middle school.

“We have really good kids here and really good faculty,” she said. “I can’t think of anything that would make me happier than what I do now.”

When teaching, Simmons tries to give students the lesson, but also make it fun for them, she said, adding she often learns as much from her students as they learn from her.

“I tell the students ‘You probably teach me more than I teach you,’” Simmons said. “I try to be a student and I hope to be a student my entire life.”

While winning the award would be an honor, Simmons is happy to receive a nomination regardless of the outcome, she said.

“That’s worth the world,” she added.

Simmons originally taught at the elementary school and was a reading specialist when a position opened up at the middle school. A reading teacher was chosen, but she decided to give social studies a try.

“I sort of fell into it — I’ve been happy as a clam every since,” Simmons said. “It’s been an interesting journey for me through the different grade levels.”

Simmons deserved to be nominated because she’s committed to the students’ development — many of whom are going through a lot in their lives, Middle School Principal Brian Reeve said.

“She’s instrumental in making a very welcoming environment for students to learn, especially each fall with elementary school students transitioning to middle school,” Reeve said. “It’s an important time for our students.”

School officials stress the importance of students making connections with adults and Simmons fits the bill perfectly because several of her former students visit the school to see her, Reeve said.

“She’s definitely one of those adults that students find they can go and talk to,” he said of Simmons. “She continues to support those kids year after year.”

Simmons is the second member of the Greenville School District faculty to be nominated for the award. Middle and high school teaching assistant Christine Lochner was nominated during the 2017-18 school year, Greenville Central School District Superintendent Tammy Sutherland said.

Of the award, Sutherland said she can’t think of anyone more deserving to win than Simmons.

“She’s gone 100 extra miles to put our students first,” the superintendent said. “It’s a great honor.”

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.