Tucker Middle School Teacher Stokes a Passion for the Arts
As Timothy Simmons conducts his choir at the Tucker Middle School Winter Concert, he looks back at a crowd of familiar faces. It’s not just his students’ parents who have come to see the performance tonight. It’s more than his coworkers or some supportive friends. On this night, he sees faces from the past; students he mentored years ago, who have come back home to see their old chorus teacher work his magic with the next generation. He sees family.
“I think as a teacher we want to see our former students succeed in life,” Simmons says. “Having them come back [and] to see how they’re doing I think it says a lot to me because it means I had some type of impact on their life.”
Simmons has run the chorus program at Tucker Middle for the past decade and, while he’s built it into one of the most successful programs in DeKalb County, it was a long and unusual road to get to this point. A native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Simmons attended Winston-Salem State University, where he got his degree in Music Business. He then moved to the metro Atlanta area, taking a full-time job as a staff musician at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. It was a position that allowed him to flex his musical muscles, but he felt something missing.
“It was good, and the money was good. But I enjoy making a difference.”
He decided that education was his best path toward making that difference. So, in 1998, he applied to drive a bus for the DeKalb County School District. It wasn’t a stretch; a state law in his native North Carolina allowed licensed drivers 16 and older to work as school bus drivers. Simmons took advantage of that policy and actually drove his own classmates to school his junior and senior years of high school.
“I think driving the bus helped me to learn that classroom management is paramount,” Simmons explains. “One of my friends told me, ‘you cannot teach in chaos.’ So, I think driving the bus helped me bring those same ideas and same principles into the classroom.”
After four months driving for DeKalb County Schools, he found out about an opening at Livsey Elementary. The school needed a paraprofessional and, thinking Simmons would be a good fit, the principal at nearby Midvale Elementary referred him for the job.
That paraprofessional position eventually turned into a chance to lead Livsey’s music department. After mentoring elementary school children for more than a decade, he finally decided it was time to seek a new challenge. He found that challenge two miles across town at Tucker Middle School.
“Mr. Simmons is an exceptional Chorus Teacher!” says TMS Principal Dr. Kathy Cunningham. “He is extremely talented and has the ability to teach students at all levels of competency. He has led our students to reach new heights in the music arena.”
Since arriving at TMS, Simmons and his students have made some sweet music, traveling to compete in cities like Nashville, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Last school year, though, the group traveled to New York City for an invitation-only performance at the famed Carnegie Hall.
“I would have never thought in this life that I would have an opportunity to step foot in there and to take a middle school choral group there. That was a highlight of my life,” Simmons says.
While basking in the glow of such a hallowed venue, he admits to also thinking ahead and asking himself, “‘Okay, now what’s next?’ Because for some, that’s the pinnacle of their career to be able to go and sing [at Carnegie Hall], but I’m thinking ‘what’s next?’”
For students like eighth grader Jackson Pickett, “next” is a trip to compete at Universal Studios in Orlando.
“We are excited to go to Orlando in the spring,” Pickett says. “Mr. Simmons is a wonderful music teacher. He is excited about teaching music and he takes us on wonderful music trips.”
The Tucker chorus often competes against bigger schools from around the country with more choral participants and more money, but Simmons says that his students’ talent is the great equalizer.
“We are a DeKalb County public school,” he explains. “We’re not a performing arts school. These are just ordinary kids who enjoy singing. Many of them come with no musical experience. Some come with a lot of experience. So, I just accept who’s willing to work hard and, if they can sing or match pitch, I’ll do the rest.”
He also credits the Tucker community for much of his program’s success. Last year, as the chorus prepared to travel to Carnegie Hall, they quickly realized it would be the most expensive trip the group had ever taken. Rather than burden parents with covering the full cost of travel, Simmons turned to local restaurants, churches, teachers and other Tucker Cluster schools. In all, he raised about $5,000 in donations, making the trip possible for his students.
“Tucker really appreciates the arts,” Simmons says. “I’ve been in this community since 1998 and I’ve developed friendships with families…and they have been so supportive of the arts, particularly the chorus.
“The arts really broaden [students’] perspectives socially, really help them make new friendships while learning music at the same time, building healthy relationships outside of their regular classes. I believe the arts add a healthy balance to any child’s life.”
And thousands of children have gained an appreciation for the arts thanks to Simmons’ work. He’ll continue to be reminded of that each time he sees an old student come back to say thanks