In recognition of his efforts, Liberty High School teacher Jeff Simpfenderfer was selected as Lodi Unified School District’s 2019-20 Teacher of the Year.
“It’s exciting. I’m proud to get the award,” he said. “It’s especially nice with being a continuation teacher and shedding light on the work we do here.”
Tami Dillon, Liberty High’s principal, shared Simpfenderfer’s excitement.
“It’s awesome, he is so deserving and I am very happy for him,” Dillon said. “There’s an old teacher training adage: ‘Students will not care to learn until they learn you care.’ This is the epitome of Jeff’s teaching style. His intellect, humor, heart, understanding of curriculum and ability to do anything with technology all combine into making him an incredible educator.”
Now in his 21st year of teaching, Simpfenderfer’s passion for education started as early as his high school days, he said, when he would tutor other students.
“My mom was a teacher and all our family friends were teachers, so it was natural for me,” he said. “The kid I was tutoring had my mom as his teacher, and I got him to pass tests that she couldn’t.”
Having taught for two decades, the students are still his favorite part of the job.
“I like being involved in their lives, just the relationships I make with my students and being able to help them in any way,” Simpfenderfer said.
For those wishing to pursue a career in teaching, Simpfenderfer said a desire to help children is mandatory.
“If you do get in to the field, (you need) to really work at building relationships with the kids,” he said.
When teaching at a continuation high school such as Liberty, Simpfenderfer stressed the importance of getting to the root cause of misbehavior instead of assuming that a student is a “bad kid.”
“What’s going on at home?” he said. “Why are they doing this?”
Simpfenderfer also cautioned new teachers against spending too much time and energy on the curriculum itself instead of the well-being of their students.
“Focus more on the students than the subject you’re teaching,” he said.
While he acknowledged the fact that some in town might “look down upon” Liberty High, Simpfenderfer said the reputation is undeserved.
“We have fantastic students here, and a staff that really cares about them,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of really good work here. This school isn’t just ‘the bad kids.’”