Terri Simpson

Teaching is a second career for Terri Simpson, who worked as a newspaper comptroller until she was in her late 30s and started giving riding lessons in Sulphur, Louisiana, to make extra money.

“A friend brought his daughter to me and, after a week of lessons, asked why I wasn’t teaching school,” Simpson says. “He believed I was a natural. I had never even considered it. The rest, as they say, is history.”

And what a history. Over the past 18 years as a teacher in Calcasieu Parish Public Schools, she has led efforts to incorporate GoogleDocs, iPods, Palm handhelds, digital cameras, iPads, student-response systems, and one-to-one computing at her middle school.

“Technology interested me on a personal level, but better than that, it provided a vehicle for what I believe is something most teachers forget -- making learning less threatening is the way to keep students from resisting quite so much,” says Simpson, one of NSBA’s “20 to Watch.”

Teaching is more than understanding subject content, Simpson says. Students, especially those in the middle grades, want to know someone cares about their well-being. Her mantra is based on a Theodore Roosevelt quote: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

“Kids needed to be respected, really respected in my classroom. They needed to know that adults weren’t just a source of discipline, but also a source of confidence and support,” Simpson says. “If I can model life-long learning each day for my students, then I can help them pursue their own life-long dreams. You’re never too old to learn. I try to convey to my students an insatiable desire to understand and expand their knowledge base. It should be more of ‘do like I do’ than ‘do like I say.’”