Words can have a lasting effect on people, something that Wilmer Hutchins Elementary School physical education teacher Earnest Sims learned in 1983 as he was preparing to graduate from his high school in Arkansas.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Sims said. “I went into the counselor’s office, and the counselor told me, ‘You’re not smart enough to be successful in college.’ That stayed with me. So many things in life I refused to do because I was afraid I was going to fail, just because of what one person said.”
Even so, Sims worked hard and graduated from Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., thrived in the U.S. Army and the National Guard and eventually joined Dallas ISD as a teacher through the alternative certification program. Now, after 26 years of striving for excellence first as a special education teacher and then as a PE teacher, Sims has earned the distinction of being one of Dallas ISD’s 23 master teachers.
He achieved this goal by focusing not just on academic success but also on caring for his students every day. Sims keeps in touch with students years after they have left his class, whether he is attending their middle school basketball games or their graduation ceremonies. He even invited one former student to be in his wedding when he married Wanda Sims, whom he calls “my best friend and the love of my life,” in 2019.
Sims understands that supporting students goes beyond emotional connections and academic support to physical needs. Growing up in a single parent household, Sims said he did not realize how impoverished his family was until he got older thanks to his mother and siblings’ love. Yet, they did not have a bathroom, running water or heat at home, and he started working in cotton fields over the summers as early as 13 to afford clothes for school.
As a result, Sims has made it his mission to ensure none of his students go without food or proper clothing. He runs his own “shoe store” on campus and helps students without hesitation when they come to school with torn shoes.
His students clearly see and appreciate Sims’ efforts—he has received a 97 percent positive response on the student survey—which has contributed to his designation as a master teacher. Sims has been working toward being a master teacher for years, so when he heard the news, he said his world stopped.
“Everything came together,” Sims said. “Those negative thoughts that I had all my life when people were telling me that I wouldn’t be successful, it was like everything stopped at that moment. It was one of the most important days of my life.”
Moving forward, Sims said he hopes to continue sharing his story to inspire his students and help them overcome whatever obstacles they may be facing.
“I want everyone to know that where you are doesn’t matter—it’s where you want to go,” Sims said. “Do not allow words to hold you down as words held me down for so many years. As long as you put in the hard work, you’re going to be successful.”