We are excited to share our latest Hootworthy episode, an interview with Georgia Cyber Academy’s (GCA) District Teacher of the Year: Mrs. Erica Sims. Mrs. Sims is a Middle School Special Education teacher and will be representing GCA at a state recognition banquet with other District Teachers of the Year in April, where the Georgia Teacher of the Year will be named. She has taught for 10 years, four of those at GCA. This award means so much to Ms. Sims and she is somewhat speechless because she is so honored to receive this recognition knowing the quality of faculty she interacts with that she feels are so deserving of recognition themselves.
Her journey to become a teacher is one of teaching finding her. When she was a child, her best friend’s little brother was autistic. She was automatically drawn to him, and they loved spending time together. She was so great with him that his grandmother commented that Erica should become a special education teacher as a career. As time went on throughout high school and even into college, she continued to gravitate toward students with disabilities. Eventually she decided that being a special education teacher was what she was meant to do after all. As a teacher in the LIFE department, she and her co-teacher teach all academic areas and skills for independent living like counting money, telling time, and how to read a menu.
Over the course of her teaching career, she has had many good memories. One of her favorite times was a few years ago when she taught middle grades at her local brick and mortar school. She had a few students in her class who loved Ghostbusters and always asked if they could dance to one of the songs. She had the idea to participate in the school’s talent show, but if they were going to do this, they were going to go all out. They practiced every day, found matching Ghostbuster style jumpsuits, and poured their hearts into it. Their efforts paid off when they ended up winning the talent show. She recalls how everyone felt in that moment—like they just won the World Series.
Teaching comes with its challenges, but it is also filled with wins. She loves it when she sees disengaged students turn into engaged students. She uses shock factors to engage her students-- singing student names or doing backflips on the trampoline—a favorite thing about teaching at GCA. She finds it so satisfying when she will see previous students out in the world being successful. She shared that a GCA student of hers started a dog sitting business, and it is so rewarding for her to see this student out following through with an idea, making money for himself, getting jobs, succeeding, and gaining independence.
If Mrs. Sims could give one piece of advice to students, she would tell them to keep their lives in perspective. Even though it may seem like if something does or does not happen it may seem like the end of the world or that life will always seem so stressful, but take a breath. Pause and remember that there is so much more life left to be lived, and that this is just a small part, a glimpse of it. Keep a perspective knowing that in the grand scheme of things, one may look back and say that it wasn’t as big of a deal as you thought it was at the time.
When Mrs. Sims isn’t teaching, you can find her spending time with her family, enjoying nature, doing cycling classes, or teaching cycling classes as a certified instructor. She couldn’t praise her co-teacher Ms. Knight enough, or her lead Ms. Spear, who she is so grateful for in the way that she leads as a servant, is constantly willing to help, and shares the workload with her team. We are proud of Mrs. Sims and her accomplishment as district teacher of the year, and we are grateful to have such amazing faculty work at GCA.