Spotlight: Amber Simpson (TX '16)March 17, 2017
The customer service skills and patience Amber Simpson (TX '16) learned in her very first job in a call center help her every day as an educator: "Much of what teachers do with the community, co-workers, parents and students is dealing with people." A TAP Master Teacher, Amber received Texas' 2016-17 Milken Educator Award at Barrera Veterans Elementary in Von Ormy on February 7, 2017.
Milken Educator Awards: How did you end up in education?
Amber Simpson: Both of my parents were educators and I saw the hard work they put in every day with very little pay. I was determined to do something different and decided I was going to go into meteorology. Throughout high school I babysat for friends and family. I volunteered at the elementary school in Lytle and always enjoyed it. I was a substitute in college and realized that I really loved children and was meant to be a teacher. Shortly after beginning my college career I changed my major to education. I have never looked back.
MEA: Sounds like teaching runs in your family.
Amber: Both my parents are educators, as are several other family members. My parents are highly respected in our community because of their care for people and their commitment to their students' education. I have tried to emulate that same thing in my career.
Milken Educator Awards: Why elementary school?
Amber: About halfway through college, I worked at a daycare and as a nanny, and then as a long-term sub in a pre-K classroom. When I began teaching, my passion was still early childhood. I love how they are little sponges who love learning new things. As I progressed in my career, I began to love teaching older elementary students, as I felt I could make a longer-lasting impression and connect with them in different ways than in early childhood. But every grade I taught was my favorite at the time.
As I went up in grade levels, I faced bad habits that needed to be broken: poor penmanship, low self-expectations, a fixed mindset about themselves or their learning. I didn't experience this as much with early childhood. However, with determination and consistency, we overcame those obstacles and my students were and are very successful.
MEA: What was your first job?
Amber: My first "real" job was working for the Sears Call Center in customer service. I learned a lot about people during that time and how best to de-escalate situations before they got out of control. I took all of that learning and apply it in most everything I do, both in and out of school. Much of what teachers do with the community, co-workers, parents and students is dealing with people—in other words, customer service.
MEA: Who was your most memorable elementary school teacher?
Amber: I remember every teacher I have ever had since preschool. The ones who made the most positive impact were the ones who always treated us with respect, remained calm even when angry, and put forth their best effort each and every day. I've remembered that and do my best to apply the same behaviors in my own teaching career.
MEA: What subjects did you like (or not)?
Amber: Spelling and grammar were my favorite subjects until high school, when algebra became my favorite. Writing was my least favorite subject in grade school; it was also the hardest, as I never felt that I was a strong writer. I continued to try my best and listened to feedback and, although I don't necessarily enjoy it, I am much stronger at it and have received compliments on my writing from college professors.
MEA: Tell us about your first class.
Amber: I often feel guilty that I wasn't a better teacher that year. Even though I worked endless hours and tried my very best, I just didn't know then what I know now. I always tell my students, "All I can ask is that you do your best, and if it's truly your best then I'm always going to be happy with that." I wish I could apply that attitude to myself!
The amount of grading and the numerous forms to fill out made it very difficult to keep up. Getting your own organizational system going as you muddle through to figure out what works and what doesn't can be very overwhelming. The culture when I first started wasn't the most welcoming, so I often felt alone as I tried to figure everything out. I am always mindful of how I felt as a new teacher and make a point to schedule meaningful training and check in on them to help them as much as possible in the beginning.
MEA: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?
Amber: The Award brought a lot of pride and excitement to our students. They got to meet the governor of Texas, a memory they'll have forever. They are still so excited for me and it's good for them to know that great things happen in small places. It's also so nice for them to see that hard work and 100 percent effort are rewarded. My hope is that these presentations change students' views on education and have a positive impact on their perception of the value of committed educators.
MEA: What do you hope your students remember about you and their time in your class?
Amber: I hope they always remember that I love each and every one of them and truly believe that they can accomplish great things if they are willing to work for it. I'm sure they would also remember me telling them that no matter what obstacles they face, they cannot let it stand in the way of finishing their education. And to always have good character.
MEA: How do you involve parents and families in your class?
Amber: I'm a master teacher now and don't have a classroom of students to call my own. When I was in the classroom, I made positive phone calls within the first weeks of school and then maintained them throughout the year. I wrote in students’ planners each day and wrote letters throughout the year. Communication is the key to positive relationships. Throughout the year, parents were more than willing to come up and volunteer their time, cover my class when I was called away for meetings, or help out with parties, field trips or speaking opportunities.
MEA: What's your favorite time of the school day?
Amber: Now, my favorite time of the day is morning duty or lunch duty where I can talk to the students and build relationships with them. I love saying good morning to each of them and hopefully start their day off right. When I was in the classroom, my favorite times were meaningful class discussions, getting everyone's point of view on current or historic events, or following a story we had read.
MEA: What's the biggest challenge you face at school?
Amber: When I was in the classroom, lack of time was my biggest challenge—so much to learn and so little time. Time is still my biggest challenge, except now it's on a much larger scale since I'm a leader of the whole school.
MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars for your school, what would you do with it?
Amber: Our school is very blessed to have many resources and quality facilities for our students. I would love to start a parent center where we could bring in experts to teach parents about proper nutrition (so important for the brain and learning), the importance of reading to your child, or how to build phonological pre-reading skills. They could bring in their toddlers a few days each week for classes. It could be a win-win for all involved if we became true partners in their children's education.
MEA: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?
Amber: I think I would have felt a void had I not gone into education, but I suspect I would have gone into meteorology as originally planned.
MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?
As a society, we must value education and educators over entertainment. We must treasure the power of an education and how privileged we are to have the opportunity of public education for all.
No one gets into teaching for the money. We all go in understanding that we are sacrificing wealth to teach. And many of us agree that it's worth it—our rewards go beyond monetary value. However, many teachers struggle to make ends meet and are forced to work two jobs. There are many people with a passion for teaching who simply can't afford to be a teacher. In the past, many of our teachers have gone to bigger districts that can pay more. The people I know who have chosen to leave the teaching profession do so to work fewer hours for more pay, hoping to receive more appreciation.
If we could implement more comprehensive educator effectiveness models like TAP™: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement, we would be able to reward teachers monetarily, which would help to supplement their pay and provide other professional opportunities. TAP has helped our district reward good teachers for doing a good job based on evaluation scores and student performance. This reward is in addition to their base salary; it helps provide good teachers a better living and much deserved appreciation for a job well done. It also allows for multiple career paths, providing educators more options to advance in their careers. These are great motivators for good educators to stay in the profession.
Many TAP schools originally qualify for grants which allow them to begin implementing TAP. Unfortunately, when the grant ends, schools sometimes must forgo payouts and additional positions. As a nation, we must do more to ensure that more schools across the nation are able to implement and sustain comprehensive educator effectiveness models like TAP.
MEA: Finish this sentence: "I know I'm succeeding as an educator when..."
Amber: ...when my students understand the importance of having good character and learn to be problem-solvers. Because both of those things will help them throughout their lives.
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