BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
Michelle Simecek has been teaching in Clarkston for 20 years and has loved every minute of it.
On May 30, the Bailey Lake Elementary third-grade teacher was honored by the Clarkston Foundation as its Teacher of the Year, something she said was very humbling.
“I was completely shocked, but very honored,” said Simecek. “The whole process itself was very amazing. It really was an incredible time to reflect and look back on what makes me who I am. When I first received the nomination, I thought, ‘What am I doing different than other people?’ I am who I am – that’s my personality. It was a good time to write down my belief statement and what I truly believe. Relationships are truly what is important, making that connection with a child. When we do that, then we can move on to the learning.”
In addition to the honor, Simecek was awarded a vehicle lease of her choice from The Suburban Collection in Waterford. She chose a Ford Explorer, which came with a two-year lease.
Other teachers nominated for the award were Michelle Aisthorpe (Young Fives, Springfield Plains Elementary), Julie Matthies (kindergarten, Springfield Plains), Gail Bacon (second grade, Clarkston Elementary), Jessica Lyons (first grade, North Sashabaw Elementary), Kiryn Petruska (first grade, Pine Knob Elementary), Valerie Rzepka (first grade, Springfield Plains), Kimberly Minton (second grade, Pine Knob), Jamie Skorna (third grade, Independence Elementary), Jessica Sorensen (fourth grade, Independence), Alexandra Laskowski (fourth grade, Springfield Plains), Thomas McGlinnen (fourth grade, Springfield Plains), and Heather Smith (fifth grade, Springfield Plains).
Simecek said she is enamored with teaching as it can be seen as both an art and a science.
“The science is the curriculum and the delivery of that,” she said. “The art is how you then change that and make the connection with the children, helping to inspire them by what you are doing, keeping them motivated and curious about the world.”
Simecek started teaching in Clarkston in 1999 and has taught third grade her entire career in town, save for one year where she had a third- and fourth-grade split class. Next year, she will teach first grade at Bailey Lake.
“I thought professionally, it’ll be nice to make a move,” said Simecek, who grew up in Kalamazoo after being born in Korea and adopted at the age of 2. “Definitely looking forward to that.”
After graduating from Western Michigan University, Simecek taught four years in Kalamazoo before making the move to the northern Detroit suburbs.
Overall, Simecek said the entire Clarkston district is “amazing” and that it reminds her of Kalamazoo in terms of a tight-knit community.
“It truly is a family, not too big and not too small – just the right size,” she said. “With being in the district for 20 years, you make the connections with teachers from other buildings, you see families when you are out and about. We do a lot of sports, and not only do you make the connections in school but also out in the community. In our building, the word ‘family’ comes to mind. I look at my children and I feel like I am their home away from home. It’s the funniest thing when they say, ‘Hey, mom,’ but it’s an honor to be called mom.”
Simecek has been married to Joshua since 2001, and the couple has two sons, Benjamin, 14, and Nathan, 11.
Over the years, as times have changed, so, too, has Simecek.
“One of the biggest changes for me was when I had my own children and watched them go through school, not that I wasn’t a great teacher before having children, but it gave me another way to really connect with families and understand them,” Simecek said. “I thought to myself that I wanted my children to have the best teachers. That drives me as well, knowing that someone has sent their child to my classroom and hoping that this child is going to love their child just as much as they do.”
Simecek also noted that the most gratifying part of being a teacher is seeing the way the students look at the world.
“When you look at things from a child’s perspective, they have just such hope,” said Simecek. “They have just such an innocence that is just a joy. When they learn something new, there is such a spark that they give off and that is contagious. Sometimes, I view myself as a kid. Being young and kid-like at heart, it’s a great place to be. Not only are the kids growing and learning, but I am as well. There is always something new to do. When you leave the end of a day, my thought is, ‘Have you made a positive impact on someone else?’ That comes in so many different avenues that you never know where it will take you.”