Simms is a third-grade teacher at Anne Beers Elementary School in Southeast D.C., where she has worked for 13 years. Her work was recognized last week with a $25,000 Milken Family Foundation award at a surprise school assembly.

Can you describe the assembly where your award was announced?

I had no idea that it would end up being an assembly just for me, so to speak ... [Milken Family Foundation co-founder Mike Milken] said that it was a big secret, but one of the teachers in the room was going to be recognized for being an excellent teacher ... He invited Chancellor [Kaya] Henderson to come up, and she read the name ... As I was walking down the aisle, I was just completely overwhelmed with joy and surprise and just in awe, and my legs felt like spaghetti. I didn't think I was going to make it.

Why did you originally decide to become a teacher?

I think that I've always wanted to be a teacher since I was young. That's all I can remember, was like playing school with my siblings -- so I think it's kind of in me.

What have you done in your classroom that has been especially fun or successful?

One fun thing we talk about in my class is love. We talk about what it looks like, what it sounds like [and] what it feels like, and they're not afraid to express that. I want students to know that when they come to school, we're family, and that they are loved. I believe that if we can get rid of all the mean-girl syndrome [and] the mean-boy syndrome and bullying, and learn to embrace and accept each other's uniqueness, we can get down to the business of learning. In my class, it helps to open them up to be more creative and innovative and successful.