AIKEN - The failing grades scrawled in bold letters across every page of her brother's workbooks would seal Pamela Traylor's indecision about what to do with the rest of her life - she just didn't know it yet.
She was just 8 then, 18 months older than her brother, Dick, when their mother found his yellowed schoolbooks in a playroom window seat. Now Aiken County's most recent Teacher of the Year, shestill can see the puzzled look on her mother's face as she thumbed frantically through the pages. On nearly every one, there was a U for unsatisfactory.
"Why didn't you let us know there was a problem?" Mrs. Traylor asked Dick's second-grade teacher at Gallagher Elementary School. "Why did he make S's on his report card and pass third grade when he made U's on his work?"
Pamela Traylor tells her brother's story 43 years later as Dr. Pamela Simpson - grown up, married and determined not to do to other children what that teacher did to him. And young Dick - who Miss Holmes said was a "a nonreader, but such a nice boy, I just couldn't bear to give him a U," - is now a surgeon and heads the burn unit in their hometown of Huntington, W.Va.
Dr. Simpson says things were different after her mom found Dick's books in the playroom.
"I knew Dick wasn't dumb," Dr. Simpson wrote in her 12-page application for this year's Teacher of the Year. "He could learn if someone helped him.
"And I knew learning should be exciting, not laborious and frustrating. Caring, supportive, competent teachers made a genuine difference in children's lives, I realized, so I would become a teacher."
Dr. Simpson has been an educator since August 1969, but before last week, she had never been anyone's Teacher of the Year.
"One of the most rewarding things for anybody is to be recognized for doing your job well," Dr. Simpson said.
Parents of current and former pupils of Chukker Creek Elementary School say Dr. Simpson's job is one she does well, indeed. They especially like her SOAR class for gifted Students on Active Research.
"Olivia refers to Wednesdays as `Wonderful Wednesdays' for two reasons," said her mother, Kaye McNeil. "She spends the entire day at school in SOAR with Dr. Simpson, and after school her grandparents pick her up, and she spends the afternoon with them. I can think of no greater compliment from Olivia than the fact Dr. Simpson is ranked alongside her grandparents."
Dr. Simpson has taught mostly technology and gifted and talented pupils for four years at Chukker Creek Elementary - the same school from which last year's Teacher of the Year came.
People who praise her gift for teaching often are surprised to hear that she almost chose a different career. She was obsessed with books, writing and reading. And rainy days were spent "playing librarian," the profession her aunt had chosen in real life.
On Saturdays when the weather was fair, Dr. Simpson took a bus to the nearest library, where she said she'd pass most of the afternoon. Then she'd walk three blocks to her father's dentist office and he'd take her home.
"I always thought, `Oh, this has got to be the most wonderful place there ever has been."'
She changed her mind gradually. And it often turned back to her brother and his struggles with what came easily to her. By the time she reached college, she knew what direction her life would take.
And while the students she teaches are considered "smart," she makes certain their parents know how they're really doing and what help they need to succeed.
She also makes sure they don't get lost in books, but are involved in the world around them. They collect canned goods for Golden Harvest Food Bank, and they rounded up clothing and other essentials for refugees in Kosovo. She likes to remind them of something civil rights activist the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, that "life's most persistent and urgent question is, `What are you doing for others?"'
Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.
|Dr. Pamela Simpson|
Occupation: Fifth-grade S.O.A.R teacher at Chukker Creek Elementary School
Achievement: Aiken County's Teacher of the Year
Quote: "One of the most rewarding things for anybody is to be recognized for during your job well."