Growing up with 12 older brothers and sisters can have its ups and downs. For South View Middle School band teacher Geneva Fitzsimonds, a big family had more perks than drawbacks, as it ultimately led her to her dream job. Fitzsimonds credits her siblings for sparking her interest in music, as she was required to attend dozens of band concerts throughout her childhood. For Fitzsimonds, teaching has been a lifelong passion. “I knew I wanted to teach when I was little,” she says.
This year, Fitzsimonds’ dedication to music education has been recognized. In February, the Minnesota Music Educators Association (MMEA) named her Music Educator of the Year, one of only two teachers in the state to be acknowledged this year. The award is given to a teacher who demonstrates excellence in both teaching and learning. All candidates must be a member of the MMEA, be actively teaching, have a minimum of 10 years teaching experience and be a leader in music outside of school.
Fitzsimonds and her siblings grew up on a farm in Northfield, where music was a staple. She went on to earn a degree in music from Concordia-Moorhead and land her first teaching job at age 21 in Babbitt, Minn. Fitzsimonds later earned a master’s degree in education from St. Mary’s University.
Fitzsimonds has also taught in Maryland, when her husband Scott was in the military; he is also a musician and was once a member of the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps. In her many years of teaching, she has taught elementary, middle school and high school band students. She began teaching at South View Middle School seven years ago and says teaching middle school is her favorite. “You see so much progress in middle school. It’s fun to have students when they are just starting out, and to ignite that spark to keep going,” she says.
“Fitzsimonds is a hard worker and she understands the middle school kids,” says South View principal Beth Russell. “She has been able to invite kids into learning music.”
Fitzsimonds is a bassoonist by training, but says she plays just about any instrument typically found in a middle school band room. This comes in handy, as she teaches seventh and ninth-grade band, and two of the school’s four jazz bands. Jazz band, she says, shows commitment. “It’s above and beyond, which is fun. The kids really want to be there.” In addition to her teaching duties, Fitzsimonds is a leader in the music community, a requirement for all award recipients. She has served as region representative on the MMEA board of directors, and is currently the president of the Minnesota chapter of the American Band Directors Association. She is a Minnesota State High School League clinician and guest conductor. She also joined an elite group of nine Minnesota educators this year who are nationally board-certified teachers by compiling a portfolio and passing a content test—the only band teacher in Minnesota to do so.
“She’s just one of those people that you get to know because she’s so involved with band things across the state,” says South View band instructor Charles Weise, who nominated her for the award.
He has known Fitzsimonds for eight years and collaborates with her daily. He collected letters of recommendation from parents, teachers and administrators. “I think that she has given so much of herself to the profession; the very least her profession can do is give back to her talent and time,” Weise says. “She is so talented… I think this is a small token to show our appreciation.”
Fitzsimonds is also mom to fifth-grader, Bram and third-grader, Berit—and she’s attending family band concerts again. On a Monday night in January, Bram performed in his very first band concert. And whether Fitzsimonds is on stage, baton in hand, conducting a group of middle school students, or in the audience at her own child’s concert, she continues to encourage the love of music in young people.
The South View Middle School eighth-grade band performed at the MMEA State Convention in February, a day before Fitzsimonds received her award. South View was the only middle school statewide invited to perform.