Faculty, students dealing with loss of beloved teacher
by Ron Harris
Aug 18, 2013 | 12500 views | 0 0 comments | 51 51 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jennifer Gann Hyche
Jennifer Gann Hyche
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When students return to class at T.R. Simmons Elementary School Monday morning, they’ll be met with smiles and lots of love from their teachers and school staff.

But there will also be sadness for the teacher who won’t be there.

Jennifer Gann Hyche, a teacher at the school for the past 12 years, died on July 24 at Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham after a sudden illness. She was 36.

Her death has brought sadness and a sense of loss to not only the staff at T.R. Simmons, but also to the students who were in her class over the last few years.

“It’s been tough for us,” said Dr. Suzanne Snow, the principal at T.R. Simmons who also served as a mentor to Hyche.

Scarlett Braddock, a teacher at the school, was among Hyche’s closest friends.

“We had a relationship outside of school. She was just like a shoulder for me to cry on when I needed it,” Braddock said Thursday. “I’ve seen what Jennifer did here and the differences she made not only in the kids’ lives and our lives as teachers, but also the lives of the parents.”

Even prior to the birth of Hyche’s son, John Cohen, Braddock said Hyche found it easy to work with her students and love them as if they were her own.

“It’s hard for a lot of parents to understand how a teacher who doesn’t have a child could love someone else’s child,” Braddock said. “And that is hard when you have a teacher who doesn’t have a child themselves. Parents will sometimes worry about that. They didn’t have to worry about that with Jennifer.”

“She made a personal bond with each parent and each child,” Snow said.

Hyche loved and supported all her students, Braddock said, but she paid special attention to those who needed that little bit of added attention.

“Her heart was toward the ones who needed it the most,” Braddock said. “Her heart was toward the less fortunate kids, toward the special needs children. She made sure the kids were taken care of.”

“She made sure they had what they needed,” Snow said.

“The students with special needs never knew they had special needs when they were with her,” said longtime T.R. Simmons teacher Cindy Matthews.

“Nobody was distinguished differently,” Snow said. “Everybody was treated equally. You just knew you could trust her with your kids. It was an unspoken trust that she created not only with the parents but also with the grandparents and with the children.”

Because of that, “the children did not want to disappoint her,” Snow added.

Students returning to class this week will be affected by Hyche’s absence, Snow said. Counselors will be at the school this week to talk with students who may be having a hard time dealing with Hyche’s death. Parents who may be suffering because of her death can also talk to a counselor at the school.

“It will affect the children more than we realize,” Snow said. “Some will outwardly let us know how it’s affecting them. It’s a good thing that children are resilient, but this will be something in their life that they will never forget.”

“I especially think of the children she had in her class last year,” Braddock said, “and how it’s going to affect them.”

“My grandson was going to be in Jennifer’s class this year, and he was just devastated when he found out about her death,” Matthews said. “He had said that she was going to be his dream teacher. And it’s not that he didn’t love every teacher he’s had, he just loved Jennifer that much.”

A special Facebook page was created following Hyche’s death as a tribute to her.

“Facebook and all social media can be used so negatively, especially by teenagers,” Braddock said, “but former students who are now in high school created this Facebook page and it’s so sweet. It’s a tribute to her. Many of them posted about how she was their favorite teacher. I just thought, for once, Facebook was used in a positive way to remember somebody.”

Once of Hyche’s special characteristics in teacher was her ability to remain calm in all situations.

“Jennifer never raised her voice,” Snow said. “She had phenomenal classroom management. Her level of expectation was extremely high, and her students wanted to reach that level. She was loving but firm.”

“She knew how to keep her class under control, but in a loving way,” said Marybeth Culbreth, a fourth-grade teacher at the school who will assume many of Hyche’s roles. “Nobody wanted to disappoint her.”

“The kids in her room knew the type of mother she was,” Braddock said, with tears in her eyes. “The ones who didn’t have a mom looked up to her.”

Hyche spent 12 years teaching at T.R. Simmons. It was her first and only teaching job.

“You can’t be with children seven hours a day and not affect the children in one way or another,” Culbreth said. “She affected them, obviously, in a positive way. She encouraged the kids to always do their best.”

“She had teaching in her blood,” Snow said. “It was just natural for her. We all just feel blessed to have worked with her and we learned so much from her, even though she didn’t have the years that many of us have.

“She did her job, and she did it phenomenally well.”