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Tampa teacher beats life-threatening disease, becomes educator of the year

educator of the year
Posted at 3:54 PM, Feb 24, 2023

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — When students walk into Ms. Phinney's AP English Class, it's not like they are going to school; it's like they're coming home

The Cambridge Christian School English Teacher was recently named Educator of the Year by the National Society of High School Scholars, but that's only half the story. For almost a year, she was bedridden, fighting for her life, hoping to return to the classroom one day.

Kimberly Phinney's favorite part about teaching is the relationships she builds with her students.

"She cares about our souls, she cares about our personal lives, she cares about so much more than just a test," said student Silvana Messina.

These relationships were never more powerful than in the 2021-2022 school year.

"I had an aggressive form of something called Endometriosis; I stopped being able to walk," said Ms. Phinney.

For almost an entire year, Ms. Phinney was confined to her bed.

"It was terrifying; I mean the days were very, very dark and very hard," said Ms. Phinney.

Yet between all the doctor's visits and surgeries, almost losing her arms and legs to Sepsis, she continued to teach from home.

She said her faith, her family and her students kept her going.

"I kept on thinking, 'it's about my husband, it's about my daughter, but it's also about these kids, I have to be back with them again,' and they cheered for me, they took care of me, we were warriors together," said Ms. Phinney.

When Ms. Phinney finally returned to the classroom, her students had a big surprise. They nominated her for The National Society of High School Scholars Class Nobel Educator of the Year Award.

"I was blown away by like what 16 and 17-year-olds, the capacity they have, to give compassion," said Ms. Phinney.

However, Ms. Phinney never thought she'd win.

"I said, 'it's a needle in a haystack, but it will be a fun experience,'" said Ms. Phinney.

It wasn't until she held the awards in her hands that it finally sunk in.

"I just want to thank the National Society of High School Scholars and my students," said Ms. Phinney.

"I'm glad people could see how hard it was for her, how hard it was for everyone, but we were able to overcome," said Josh Willeke.

"It's one thing to be recognized by colleagues or your academics, but by far, to me, if the students are believing this, that means the most," said Ms. Phinney.

For more information go to https://www.nshss.org.