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In her blood – Hartselle math teacher continues family legacy

By Wes Tomlinson

For the Enquirer

Bethany Simpson has been teaching seventh-grade math at Hartselle Junior High for a decade, and she said dedication to teaching is in her blood.

“Both of my parents were educators in Mississippi,” Simpson said. “My mom taught gifted students, and my dad taught math and was an administrator.”

Journey begins

Though her parents inspired her, Simpson said her main inspiration comes from a math teacher she had in high school in her hometown of Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

“I wasn’t a great math student at first. I had to work at it,” Simpson said. “We worked at it together, and she really helped me.”

An alumnus of Southern Miss University, Simpson began her teaching career 15 years ago at a high school in Taylorsville, Mississippi. A year later, she moved to Decatur to teach at the former Cedar Ridge Middle School for four years.

Simpson said she quickly noticed the stark differences between high school and middle school students when she transferred to Cedar Ridge.

“In high school, the kids are kind of set in their ways. There’s not really any persuading them one way or another,” Simpson said. “Seventh-graders are still moldable; they still want to please you.”

Her strong commitment has continued throughout and despite the pandemic, and that dedication has made others take notice.

Tina Kimbrell, assistant principal at Hartselle Junior High, worked alongside Simpson as a math teacher when Simpson first arrived in Hartselle.

“She was a young, energetic, very knowledgeable math teacher,” Kimbrell said. “She always put her students first – then and now.”

Kimbrell said that in the beginning stages of Simpson’s career, she knew she was destined for greatness. “I think she has stepped into her role as teacher and was immediately a leader in the classroom at a young age,” Kimbrell said.

Simpson said the main reason her family has stayed in Hartselle is because of the program for special needs at Crestline Elementary, which she said is a constant support system to her 8-year-old son, Levi.

Accessible to students

Kimbrell said the COVID-19 pandemic did not alter Simpson’s teaching efforts but only inspired her to work harder.

“She has gone above and beyond to bring lessons to the students,” Kimbrell said. “She has filmed herself and posted extra lessons and has done everything she could to help students learn from home.”

Eighth-grade student Olivia Groves was in Simpson’s class this past year and said she remembers how Simpson was never out of reach when Olivia and her classmates were going through remote learning.

“We were able to email her whenever, and she would respond,” Olivia said. “When I was in quarantine, she would get people in our class on a Zoom call so we were basically still there in class, and we could ask questions whenever.”

Olivia said Simpson is always there in the early morning to offer help to her students.

“She’d let us come to her in the mornings and ask questions about our homework,” Olivia said.

Olivia said she remembers being stuck on a math question while she was in quarantine, but she knew she and her classmates could always rely on Simpson.

“One time, me and my friend called each other about a question on our math homework,” she said. “We emailed (Simpson), and she was quick to respond and help us out.”

Olivia’s mother Rachel Groves, who is also a teacher at Hartselle Junior High, said Simpson will even work weekends and after school hours to tutor struggling students.

“She would have Google Meet for students on the weekend if they were struggling with their homework or didn’t understand an assignment,” Groves said. “She’d be shopping in the grocery store, and students would be sending her messages, and so she’d get an alert on her phone, and she answered their questions right then and there.”

Kimbrell and Groves both said Simpson has the ability to reach children in the classroom and those learning remotely simultaneously.

“Here at school, she would also do a live lesson for students at home,” Kimbrell said. “To me, she’s just meeting students’ needs any way she can.”

“The remote students could ask questions as (Simpson’s) class was going on,” Groves said. “She’d be teaching and then look at the questions that were being asked through that live lesson.”

Personal touch

Simpson said the most crucial step in educating children is to develop strong relationships with them.

“Because of those relationships we built with students before we sent them home in March 2020, expectations for them were already there,” Simpson said. “I felt like I was a lot better off than some (teachers) because of that.”

While she has succeeded in instructing students through the pandemic, Simpson said she is saddened by the constraints it has placed on education.

“My students now have not had a normal year since fourth grade, and that breaks my heart,” Simpson said.

Simpson said her greatest joy is to see former students in the community and see how they have developed their lives since their time at Hartselle Junior High School. She had the opportunity to speak with one former student over Christmas break.

“I saw a former student who is at the Naval Academy playing football, and he gave me the biggest hug,” Simpson said. “I talked to his mom, and she said that was the highlight of his time at home – getting to see me.”

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