Notre Dame teacher completely gets special middle-school dynamic; finds a home for herself and her three children.
When Kelly Simon, currently a literature teacher in Notre Dame's middle division, and her family moved back to Michigan from New York City, priority one was finding a good school for her three daughters. The family had come from a great school in New York, she said, where they learned about what it means to be part of a positive well-supported school community.
"When we came back to Michigan in 2015, my father-in-law, Brad, a 1972 Harper Woods Notre Dame alum, told us to consider NDPMA because of all the good programs he was hearing about and reading about," Simon recalled. "Our girls shadowed at the lower division and instantly fell in love."
Simon remembers observing a fifth-grade class in the lower division and the students were spread around the classroom in organized chaos, she said, working on their IB-PYP Exhibition projects.
"The teacher stopped the class and asked a student to share what they were doing," Simon said. "Several students raised their hands to share their work and one young girl spoke with such poise and confidence about their project and I thought, 'Yep, this is where my daughters belong.' While my husband and I knew it was the right fit, we ultimately left it up to the girls. Our middle daughter, Audrey, was adamant that this was the school she wanted to go to. For her to speak up so definitely about this choice, we filled out the paperwork the very next day."
"Both of my parents were teachers," she said. "They always told me that I would be a great teacher, but I thought that was a boring choice. So when I went to John Carroll University, I majored in communications with a concentration in public relations and a minor in creative writing. I thought the exciting life of advertising and public relations, working in an office, having a briefcase, etc., was way more interesting at the time."
She worked at a number of for-profit and nonprofit companies, but never felt like she was making an impact or even making a difference, for that matter.
"I actually called home crying one day to my mom and said, 'I think I want to become a teacher…' Instead of saying, 'I told you so, she encouraged me to go back and get my teaching degree, which is what I did. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made."
Simon's first teaching job was in 2009 at Monticello Middle School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and she said she loved going to work every day.
"I felt like the students needed me and I needed them," said Simon, who also holds an M.A. degree in teaching and learning with technology from Ashford University. "I felt fulfilled and I had a real purpose."
Now as she continues to grow as a teacher, she looks back fondly on those first few years.
"I actually was a lot like my middle school students," she said, "awkward, confused, and trying to figure it all out. Even now, during my 'second first year' of teaching, I have some of those same feelings. But as I'm getting closer to 40 years old, I'm definitely feeling more confident in my role of helping students to grow as lifelong learners."
When questioned about what she feels is the most critical part of her job, Simon is unequivocal.
"Being there for the kids," she said. "I know that sounds simplistic, but middle school students need to know you're there for them. I try my best to listen, to adapt to their needs, adjust to their attitudes and emotions and help guide them anyway I can. Relationships are everything at this age. Middle school students have so many doubts and insecurities, which is why I try to share as much positive reinforcement as possible with them. I want them to see the same greatness that we as teachers and parents see in them."
Others in Notre Dame Marist Academy's middle division confirm that Simon has her students' best interest at heart.
"We love Kelly Simon," said middle division Vice Principal Kelly Patterson. "She's a positive and dedicated worker and has been a natural fit into the culture of our middle school. She understands these kids and has the unique ability to create a fun learning environment amid the challenges of this age level. She creates learning opportunities and works on building positive relationships with her students. Kelly embodies everything a middle school student needs in a teacher!"
Now well-ensconced in the Notre Dame community, Simon, her husband, Jim, and their three daughters, Grace (seventh grade), Audrey (fifth grade) and Josie (second grade) are very pleased that they've landed on the school's Pontiac campus.
"I can't imagine being anywhere else or being anything besides a teacher," she said. "Perhaps a stay-at-home mom, but both are very hard jobs. At the same time, however, the joy found in both occupations is priceless."
Also priceless is how she says her daughter Grace, a seventh grader, who is taking her mom's literature class, addresses her during the school day.
"She calls me 'Mrs. Simon,' of course. Ha!"
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org