June 7, 2012 in Washington Voices

Popular elementary school teacher calls it a career

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Melissa Simpson, a fourth-grade teacher at Pasadena Park Elementary who is retiring this year, has been teaching in the West Valley School district since 1976.
(Full-size photo)

West Valley School District

Retiring employees

Polly Crowley, superintendent of West Valley schools

Mary Sementi, Orchard Center Elementary, teaching since 1982, in West Valley since 1987

Jill Enabnit-Stokes, Orchard Center, teaching since 1979, in West Valley since 1989

Melissa Simpson, Pasadena Park Elementary, teaching since 1976, all with West Valley

Monica Brower, Ness Elementary, teaching since 1973, in West Valley since 1976

Ken Fischer, Orchard Center custodian

Melissa Simpson, 59, is such a popular teacher at Pasadena Park Elementary School, there is a waiting list for her fourth-grade class.

“I don’t know why,” Simpson said. She has been around West Valley schools so long, she said, that she’s taught two generations of many families.

She’s been teaching in West Valley since the start of her career in 1976. She will retire at the end of the school year.

Simpson said she started as a long-term substitute teacher in a fifth-grade classroom and was hired on full-time at Ness Elementary as a second-grade teacher in a classroom that was half special education and half general education – something that was a relatively new concept back then, but is now common practice in schools.

It wasn’t quite what she thought she would be doing for a career.

“I wanted to be an archaeologist,” she said. She also had a lot of teachers in her family, and ultimately went in that direction, becoming certified in speech therapy.

After she completed her student teaching, she knew what she wanted to do.

“I loved it,” she said. “I love classroom teaching.”

When she started teaching, she said reading was taught in groups. Today, teachers assess where the students are and work up from there, something Simpson really enjoys.

She said reading is something that helps her students make sense of the world. Students who read well do better in math and writing.

“I’m a reader,” she said, “an avid reader. That’s something I want for my kids.”

When she steps down, she hopes to become a supervisor of student teachers a couple of days a week through Washington State University and Eastern Washington University, training others to become effective teachers.

“I feel strongly about good teachers,” she said. A good teacher must be willing to work hard, must like being in school and must be prepared to deal with both students and their parents.

“It just takes hard work,” she said. “You have to put your heart and soul into it.”

She said West Valley is much like a small community – although she and her husband, Jim, both graduated from Central Valley, they moved to the West Valley district to raise their own children, Brooke Simpson, 33, and Andy Simpson, 30. Her granddaughter, Lili Wallingford, 9, attends Pasadena Park, which has been nice for Simpson.

Although she’s looking forward to retirement, she said more than anything else, she will miss the students.

“Every student wants to learn,” she said. She said even if students have been defeated in the past, they will still try – they need a pat on the back and positive encouragement. If they are having trouble with a particular subject, she likes to tell them, “that’s my job. We’ll learn it.”

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