Area teacher unknowingly teaches life lessons after car accident

"Do you know a teacher that is awesome, kind, caring, funny, and the best teacher ever? I do."

That's how Chesney Secrist started her report for WQAD News 8's "My Favorite Teacher" Contest.

That teacher is Mr. Matt Simpson, who teaches reading and science at Knoxville Junior High in Knoxville, Illinois.

However, Chesney says he teaches her so much more.

"He has taught us to accept people for who they are," she said. "I am pretty sure that he does not even realize that he has taught us that lesson."

16 years ago, Matt's life changed when he was in a car accident:

"I ended up with a spinal cord injury and finished out high school, went right to college, got my degree in teaching and here I am," he explained.

His story has inspired students both inside and outside the classroom, which is why Chesney wanted to surprise him with a nomination for the "My Favorite Teacher" Award.

"It was a complete major surprise," said Matt. "I had no idea that anything was even coming - no idea at all."

Matt says his biggest reward is Chesney's words, though, as she read her report out loud in front of the entire class:

"That does not stop him from doing something he loves - teaching," she read. "He has made me understand that if I set my mind on something I can do it. Anybody can if they set goals."

"I was crying, because that just meant so much to me," said Matt. "Hearing her say that and knowing that everything I try to portray really is coming across to the kids is huge."

"He has taught me that no matter what obstacle I will encounter in my life I can overcome it, that if I put my mind to it I can do it," added Chesney. "Life is only as perfect as you want it to be. You can feel sorry for yourself and give up or you can be the very best."

Chesney said some of her favorite moments from Mr. Simpson's class have been learning about constellations, the atmosphere, and doing the egg drop.

Mr. Simpson - and all the winners of our "My Favorite Teacher" Award - receives a bag full of prizes from our sponsors, including a $25 Visa gift card from Black Hawk Bank & Trust as well as a fleece blanket from Western Illinois University Quad Cities.

Chesney - and all the students who nominated their favorite teacher - also receive a prize, including a $50 Visa gift card from Black Hawk Bank & Trust and a water bottle from Western Illinois University Quad Cities.