Jerry Simmons Recounts Experiences During Teaching Career
BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (June 21) — Jerry P. Simmons has accumulated an extensive resume during his impressive teaching career spanning six decades. During this time, he has served as a teacher, principal and superintendent of Weakley County Schools.
Although he no longer teaches full-time, Simmons, who is 84 years old, continues to work as a substitute teacher for Weakley County Schools at least 100 days each school year.
Recapping his 60 years as an educator, Simmons said, “While serving as principal of Dresden (grades 1-8) and Gleason School (grades 1-12), I was blessed to have two outstanding assistant principals. Mr. Thomas Moore was my assistant at Dresden and Mr. Mitchell Parham was my assistant at Gleason. I was also grateful to have an excellent teaching staff at both schools.
“While serving as superintendent of Weakley County Schools, I was privileged to serve with superior School Board members. I also want to thank my fellow church members at Thompson Creek Baptist Church in Como for the love, support and encouragement they have always given to me.”
Influence on Students
Concerning the impact he has had on his students over the years, Simmons said, “So many of the students I had, when I was teaching and as a principal, have gone on to become really outstanding citizens, including: doctors, dentists, lawyers, teachers and all those kind of things. When I see them and what they’ve accomplished, it makes me feel good.
“Also, some of the teachers I have hired have gone on to be extremely successful. An example is Coach Randy Frazier. I hired him for the very first time he ever taught at Gleason School, where he served as girls’ basketball coach. Mr. Frazier was later appointed principal of Gleason School, and then, he was named director of Weakley County Schools. He became an excellent teacher and was recognized at the state level. I’m proud to have recommended and helped hire people that have done a great job.”
Teaching Yesterday and Today
When asked how teaching today is different from when he entered the teaching profession, Simmons said, “Teaching is so different now. In my day, I didn’t abuse a child, but I did paddle, and now-a-days, that’s about extinct. I think it’s very successful in some circumstances, but you have to use good sense.
“Technology has totally changed teaching as I knew it.
“When I substitute teach, we’re dealing with everything on cell phones and laptops. When I was teaching, there was no such thing as a laptop or cell phones. I have difficulty telling if they’re working on the right thing or not, so I have to trust them. Of course, their teacher would know if they did what they were supposed to do when they returned to their classroom the next day.
“It’s a little more difficult communicating with students when you’re dealing with computers. The students just answer the questions, and I don’t think a lot of them retain the skills in some cases. Most of it is multiple-choice. But the teachers do a good job. I’m not questioning that. It’s just a different world. Technology is so different than when I was a teacher, a principal or a superintendent.”
Regarding the new common core math being taught in schools, Simmons, said, “I go into stores and other places and I see students that, honestly, look like they’re having trouble making change. Sometimes, I think the old math, where you drilled it in and learned the multiplication tables, might still have a good use in society.”
Simmons stated in a real-world situation, people just want you to give them the answer. They don’t care about how the answer was arrived at. People in business expect their employees to have the practical knowledge necessary to do their jobs.
He noted, students need to know how to measure things and convert those measurements to larger or smaller amounts (inches to feet, millimeters to centimeter, pints to quarts and kilometers to miles), “I’m not sure they get as much of that as they should now.”
Simmons stated, during the years he spent as a principal and superintendent, he evaluated many teachers. “There were excellent teachers then, and there are excellent teachers now. But, I’ve seen some students that don’t make any effort. They just come to class and sit down. Some of them never do anything. I think to myself, I don’t understand why that happens.
“The teachers I saw that were successful, got involved with their students, both inside and outside of the classroom. They attended the sports programs and competitions. When their students were participating in different things, those teachers showed up. They showed their students that they cared.
“So, I thought to myself, I’m going to go back and substitute teach a year or two and I’m going to prove to myself whether that’s true or not.
“Some people say the students today are just not good kids like they used to be; there are too many drugs and alcohol and things like that. But we’ve always had that.”
Simmons advised teachers to treat kids the way they would like for their kids to be treated. “Show those kids respect; and show them – not just tell them – that you care.
“I make it a habit of talking to them and complimenting them when they do a good job, whether it’s in sports, or for their writing or artwork. So, compliment them when you’re sincere about it, and let them know that you really care and are interested in them.”
Simmons stated when he’d walk down the hall, he’d speak to students in a friendly way and they would answer in a similar manner. “Some people don’t think that’s the way it should be, but it’s been successful for me.
“I have been so pleased the way those kids have responded to me.”
He stated that he’s older and don’t get around as easily as he once did, so, if he needs anything, his students are quick to offer to help him. “I’ll be carrying something and they’ll say, ‘Mr. Simmons, I’ll carry that for you.’
“I would tell teachers today, just remember, what goes around, comes back. If you mistreat a child in school, you may encounter them again sometime.” He recalled that a nurse that gave him a shot during a doctor’s visit was a former student of his. He jokingly told her, “I hope I didn’t do anything to make you mad at me. So, I’m just saying treat them in a manner that won’t make you ashamed, or make them angry and try to retaliate if they ever got the opportunity.”
Family Life and Teaching Career
When asked what prompted him to become an educator, Simmons recalled his early childhood and the events that eventually led him to become a teacher.
Simmons was born in 1938, in the same house where his father was born, which is located on the Weakley/Henry County line on Highway 54 in the Ore Springs community, just outside the unincorporated town of Como.
When he was a small child, his family moved to Maryland, which is where his father was stationed in the Army during WWII. After his father left military service, his family moved back to Tennessee.
Simmons stated he and his family later lived in Michigan, but returned to Como when he was in the fourth grade. “I attended Como School where they taught students in the first through the eighth grade. After I completed the sixth grade, the school was closed.”
The bus from Weakley and Henry Counties came by his family’s home on Highway 54. So, he rode the Henry County School bus and attended Cottage Grove School.
“There was a store right beside my house, and a girl named Marge, who later became my wife, lived across the highway. My grandfather and grandmother ran that store, and lived in the back of it. So, I would come and visit them quite often. Marge and her family played croquet out in their front yard quite often, so I’d go over and play sometimes. Marge and I were within two months of being the same age.”
According to Simmons, when he was in Junior High School, he had a science teacher by the name of Mr. Tommy Neese, who inspired him to become a teacher.
“He was the kind of teacher that involved his students in various activities, including lab experiments, and going outside to identify leaves, animals, and other things. I thought that was such a terrific thing. The way he conducted his classes made it so interesting that it challenged me to do the same.” From that time forward, his life choices were directed toward becoming an educator.
“I attended three high schools. I went to Cottage Grove in grades sixth thought ninth. My father allowed me to go to Dresden when I was a sophomore and a junior. Then, my dad sold the farm, which was about 100 acres, and we moved to Trezevant in Carroll County, because they were working at the Milan Arsenal at that time. But the arsenal shut down in March of that year. My dad had two brothers living in Lansing, Michigan, so he moved to Michigan to work, while my brother and mother and I stayed here, because, I was going to graduate in May. So, I graduated from Trezevant in 1956.
“At the end of May in 1956, we moved to Lansing, Michigan, and I enrolled at Michigan State University that summer. It was a different world. It was a huge school.”
Simmons stated, at that time, there was a need for people interested in the sciences. “They would pay your way, if you would go to where they sent you. One year, I went to Kellogg Research Center, where they make the cereal. Another year, I went to Murray State University. The National Science Foundation paid for my entire master’s degree in education, because they needed science teachers, which helped me out a great deal.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University, he continued to attend the same college, where he earned his master’s degree in biological science with a minor in math, and was certified to teach chemistry, physics, biology, general science and mathematics.
From 1962 until 1964 he taught biology, chemistry, physics and general science at Byron K-12 School in Byron, Michigan. During this time, his wife also worked at the school teaching first grade.
“We moved back here in 1964, and I taught school at Grove High School in Paris for six years.
“I had mentioned to some people that I would be interested in teaching in Dresden, because we lived right here at Ore Springs on Highway 54. And Dr. Ed H. Wells, who served as chairman of the school board, contacted me about coming in for an interview.
In 1970, Dresden had one school (grades K-12) with Jerry Simmons as the first principal. In 1971, Dresden High School was built on the Highway 22 bypass and the following year the old high school building was demolished. In 1975 the junior high building was completed.
“Mr. Joe Gardner was the principal, and he hired me to teach at the old Dresden School (K-12) until Christmas. Mr. Gardner served as principal at the new Dresden High School, and I served as principal at Dresden K-8.”
From 1970 until 1976, Simmons served as principal at Dresden K-8, for six years. He taught two years at Dresden High School (1976 until 1978).
In 1978, Simmons was appointed superintendent of Weakley County Schools, to fill the vacancy left by outgoing superintendent, Mac Buckley, who held the post from 1970 until 1978. Mr. Simmons served as superintendent 1986.
From 1986 until 1995 he worked as principal of Gleason School. During his tenure as Gleason principal, the school was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for the first time, which was covered by local news media, as well as WPSD Local Channel 6 News – Paducah. One of the honors Simmons received while principal at Gleason School was Principal of the Year for all of West Tennessee.
Simmons was a GED teacher at the Weakley County Adult Learning Center from 1995 until 2003. He assisted students in several nursing classes with the math portion of their state tests.
“I really enjoyed teaching the GED classes. I taught all of it at times, but mainly I taught math. Some of the students were in their 50s and they really had trouble with math. Even now, I’ll see some of those people and they’ll tell me how appreciative they are. It makes me feel good that I was able to help some people that had not had the opportunity, or didn’t take the opportunity (to earn a high school diploma), when they were younger.”
He retired from full-time teaching on June 30, 2003.
For the past 19 years (2003 until 2022), Simmons has served as a substitute teacher at Dresden High School.
He has been in the Weakley County School System for 52 of his 60 years as an educator.
Simmons says his favorite subjects are math and science. “With science, you can do so many things that involve hands-on experience. With math, I’ve always been able to add, subtract, multiply and divide without having to use a calculator. For example, when helping to count offerings at church, I finish way before people using calculators.”
Commissioner James Westbrook, Jr. recalls knowing Simmons when he served as principal of Dresden High School. “I knew him since I was a teenager. I have a lot of respect for him. As a commissioner, I worked with him on the Weakley County Schools budget when he was superintendent. The school system made a lot of progress under his administration.”
Wife and Children Life
Simmons married his childhood sweetheart, Marjorie “Marge” Hearn Simmons in 1959.
They were both teachers. Marge taught elementary school for a total of 38 years.
She taught first grade at Atkins Porter Elementary School in Paris for five years, prior to teaching in Weakley County. She then went on to teach at Dresden Elementary School for 35 years.
With the exception of the one year she taught fourth grade, she devoted her entire teaching career to teaching first-graders.
“We adopted two sons from Baptist Children’s Home in Memphis, when they were seven or eight-weeks-old,” Simmons said. “She didn’t teach for the first two years after that.”
At one time, their son, Michael, was the bus supervisor in Weakley County. He and his wife, April, currently live in Murray and he works for a huge farmer in Hickman, Kentucky. Michael and April have a 24-year-old son named, Michael “Luke” Lukas, who is in the Army at Fort Campbell; and a 25-year-old daughter, Lauren Elizabeth, who is in the Air Force in Las Vegas, Nevada. Lauren has a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal Justice.
Their son, Mark, and his wife, Jennifer, reside in Collierville outside of Memphis, where he has worked as a manager at the FedEx headquarters for the past 22 years. Their 17-year-old son, Garrett; and their 14-year-old daughter, Holly, attend Briarcrest Christian School in Collierville
Simmons’ wife died in 2017, leaving him alone. He manages to continue operating his 405-acre farm with help from a neighbor, while also working as a substitute teacher.
According to Simmons, his granddaughter, Lauren, who is in the Air Force, is returning home at the end of her six-year tour of duty, which ends in December of this year. She’s going to help out on the family farm, where Simmons currently cares for 43 cows, plus goats and horses. He also raises quail. “She’ll work mowing pastures and feeding the cows, which is a great help to me, especially during the wintertime. She says that’s what she wants to do and I’m delighted.”
Simmons’ accomplishments and accolades over his long and productive career in the field of education are too many to mention here. Suffice it to say that his genuine concern for his students as a teacher, and the wise counsel and encouragement he has provided educators under his leadership, as principal and supervisor of schools, is both heartfelt and sincere.
He expresses his hope that caring educators will demonstrate their concern for their students by doing their best to help them succeed in the classroom, cheering them on at school activities, and preparing them for future careers.