Teaching students to fall — and how to get back up


Nichole Simonis compares teaching to driving a bus full of live chickens backwards with no brakes through the mountains, while trying to provide commentary on the scenery.

Learning doesn’t happen with her chickens sitting in rows and nodding their heads approvingly, she said.

“Learning in my classroom happens in groups with students talking and using one another to help their understanding,” said Simonis, who was selected as an Inspirational Educator by the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club.

That cooperative learning allows for mistakes with the understanding that making one is not permission to give up, she said.

Simonis asked her students for advice before presenting at the club’s Thursday meeting. The answers included “don’t pick your nose,” “don’t look at anyone” and “think about candy.”

Simonis is a fourth-grade English/language arts teacher at Conneaut Elementary and had previously taught fifth grade during her eight years as a teacher in Bowling Green.

Her job is to teach reading, writing, grammar, phonics, vocabulary and comprehension skills — and most importantly learning the difference between who and whom, she said.

The 600 students who have come through her door have taught her that learning doesn’t stop when you become a teacher.

“They have taught me some of the most random things,” Simonis said.

Teaching fourth graders isn’t for the faint of heart: You have to know how to take a joke, roll with the punches and laugh at yourself, she said.

“Teaching fourth grade has been incredibly rewarding but at the same time equally challenging,” she said. “My kids need to know that they can move mountains and I will be there the entire time to cheer them on.”

They also need to know how to fall and how to get back up, she added.

She read the story “After the Fall” by Dan Santat, about how Humpty Dumpty was rewarded after getting back up from his fall.

The picture book tells the story of how Humpty Dumpty was an avid birdwatcher whose favorite place to be was high up on the city wall — that is, until after his famous fall.

Simonis said she didn’t realize until she was an adult and read this book that Humpty Dumpty was more than she assumed he was. His dream of flying only happened after he got back up after his fall and overcame his fear of heights.

The best part of teaching is watching her students grow and become their own person, Simonis said.

“Being a teacher doesn’t stop at writing lesson plans and pulling out books to read,” Simonis said. “Being a teacher is the understanding you now have 45 jobs, and you only get paid for one.”

She has given her shoes to a kid that played so hard he blew his out. She has dodged being shot at with a paintball gun. She has tucked kids into bed and read bedtime stories at camp. Simonis has also braided hair, paid off lunch debts and got on the floor to calm the overstimulated.

In return, her students have given her more laughs and kindness she has ever received, Simonis said.

Amongst all of that, there is learning taking place, she said. Her students are accepted as they are, and they can succeed with the right tools.

She does not consider herself inspirational — but inspired.

“What inspires me are the people that I’m around each and every day, from the young and small to the mature and tall.”

Simonis’ award was well deserved, said Conneaut Elementary Principal Alyssa Karaffa.

“Inspirational is definitely a way to describe (Simonis), she is an excellent teacher, and we are lucky to have her,” Karaffa said.

Simonis was nominated for the award by her peers and was chosen by a selection committee made up of members of BG Kiwanis.

‘I’m very honored, it was unexpected, but I appreciate it and I think it’s wonderful that this program goes on,” she said. “I didn’t think I had that much impact on the people around me, so I was really appreciative that they thought so much about me.”

Laura Johns, an eighth grade math teacher at the middle school, will be honored Feb. 9. Melissa Hemminger, who is a kindergarten and first grade teacher at Crim Elementary, will speak at the Feb. 16 meeting.

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