For Marian Moore Sims, nurturing students for 46 years shaped not only their lives, but also her own.
Marian may be one of the most memorable teachers in Fayette County with her gentle teaching methods, telling her students each day she loved them and, most recently, placing a billboard message about how much they’ve blessed her life.
“As much learning happens from student to teacher as it does teacher to student,” Marian said.
If she was teaching a lesson on prepositions, for example, and a student wasn’t understanding, she needed to learn why it wasn’t possible or necessary for him to learn it and be conscious about what else she might be teaching.
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“They’re learning your attitude, your love of nature, your resentment...People are like sponges, especially kids. They take whatever you put out there and soak it in,” she said.
In her early years, Marian taught at Northern and Cassidy elementary schools, then spent 32 years teaching at Morton Middle School. She now coordinates a master’s program for teachers at Morehead State University.
She said the focus of her whole career has been on nurturing her students.
According to Marian, a teacher who nurtures is more important than a person who shares information. “There’s a lot of work that teachers do that goes unsung. They wear many hats. They’re mother, father, sister, brother, coach. They do all those things in promoting another human. A teacher’s job is to nurture other humans into (better people),” she said.
For many years, she had a sign on her classroom bulletin board that served as the basis of her teaching. It read: “In the end, only kindness matters.”
“Kindness is not taught a lot anymore,” she said. “The best lessons are caught, not taught.”
She recalled specific students who took her lessons to heart, like a young girl whose grandmother had recently passed away. Marian pulled her close and said her grandmother was still watching over her. The student recalled the memory on Sims’ Facebook, which brought her to tears.
She also remembers a young student who told her he wanted to grow up and become a policeman so he could protect her his entire life—and he did. He recently retired from the Lexington Police Department.
“People remember (kindness),” Marian said. “If you put that faith forward, somebody is going to take you up on it.”
When Marian turned 70, she said she wanted to tell all of her students how much she loved them one more time.
“I told them every day. Do you know how hungry people are for that? At some gut level, people want to know they’re cared for, whether they’re rich, poor, live in a mansion, severely disabled…if you can get (love) across, it’s nurturing at its best.”
So she put up a billboard at the corner of Tates Creek and the Avenue of Champions with her picture and in large letters, “Mrs. Sims still loves you and prays for you.” It also thanked her students for blessing her life, said to “love love and hate hate,” and included a Bible verse, Phil. 1:3, which says, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”
When she put word out on her Facebook page that the billboard was up, she was astounded at the response.
“The reaction I got in the community and all over the United States (was amazing). I heard from thousands,” she said.
Former students and their families from as far away as England and France reached out to her about the billboard, recalling the times they felt loved by her, appreciated and nurtured, and Sims said she wanted them all to know the billboard was for each one of them.
“I know at some point, I made a little difference in how they felt about themselves, and how they felt about each other,” she said.
In her last year teaching in public school, she taught health and focused on kindness, mental health, goodness in one’s life and God.
“I never stepped away from saying God in the classroom, because I couldn’t teach the majesty of the body without talking about the majesty of the creator,” she said. “All students have some sort of God. They may not call it the same thing, but it represents goodness. I felt like these kids were a gift from God.”
Something she’s now handed down to her college-age students is to start collecting photographs of their students. Marian began her collection early in her teaching and put them on a wall in her classroom, which was full by the end of her career.
“The kids come back and see (their picture is) still there. It meant something to them that I wanted to save that. That’s nurturing. They value themselves because you value them,” she said.
Marian said she’ll never retire, but will continue instilling her lessons of kindness, encouragement and love in Kentucky’s aspiring educators.