By Josie Parker
Christyn Simmons Henderson (’15) is in her fifth year teaching third grade at Searcy’s McRae Elementary School. Watching the impact her mother, who previously taught third grade and now teaches art for Searcy’s Westside Elementary School, has had on her students helped Henderson recognize her passion for teaching. She’d always imagined herself being a teacher, even playing school with her sister while growing up. All this practice and drive have paid off — this year Henderson was awarded Searcy School District Teacher of the Year.
Henderson comes from a strong legacy of teachers. Her mother-in-law, sister-in-law, grandmother, uncle, aunts, parents, and even her younger sister have been able to touch lives working in education. Her mother, Cheryl Brooker Simmons (’89), won Searcy District Teacher of the Year in 2012. Henderson says it has been so special to share this honor with her and says, “She was so proud when I told her I received this honor. I am definitely a behind the scenes person. It has all been a bit of a whirlwind getting all of this recognition, but it has been affirming, and all the kind words I’ve received have been so sweet. It is really special sharing in this excitement with all the teachers in my family, too!”
Henderson feels fortunate to have had professors who matched her view of teaching as a ministry. “There’s a bigger picture than just teaching them curriculum and standards. I pray that I’ve made a difference in the lives of my students and that they remember that I was, and will always be, in their corner, they are loved, and they should dream big.” Henderson is back at Harding working on her master’s degree, but like so many things this year — online. She is pursuing a Master of Arts: Excellence in Teaching with gifted and talented licensure, expecting to finish in Spring 2021.
She has made strong relationships with her grade-level teammates and coworkers at McRae. “They care so much about the kids and their McRae family,” Henderson said. “My team has really pulled together this year and has already faced many challenges in just the first few weeks of school. It is especially tough balancing everything with these new restrictions and policies COVID-19 has created. I’m thankful I have many people at work who pray for me, send me scriptures, celebrate the highs, listen to all my worries, and be there for my lows. I’m very thankful for my people. McRae is a special place.”
What fuels Henderson’s passion for teaching is the growth she sees and relationships she has been able to build. “I try to have a unique and personal relationship with all my students and make sure they feel loved and safe at school,” says Henderson. “When a student makes gains in an area we’ve been working on, it is so rewarding to see the smile on their face of how proud they are of themselves.” Though Henderson is missing carpet time and hugs, the majority of her class has been able to meet in person this school year, and she is still finding ways to keep connecting with her students even through screens and masks.
When asked what guidance she would share to new teachers Henderson suggests, “to look for ways to make learning and teaching fun, be an advocate for your kids, and take care of yourself. Give yourself grace. You’ll have really great days and really bad ones.” Henderson continues, “I would also advise them to not be afraid to ask for help. Finding a community of Christian teachers is crucial. Finding people you can lean on and who can build you up make all the difference. Quiet time with God also is essential. Being in the Word, praying and listening have been very beneficial, especially when things are hard. Through all of this, I’ve learned to lean on God and trust that he will work things out and give me strength when I need it.”