AURORA | After a district music festival in May, East Middle School band director and instrumental music teacher Jimmy Day went about his usual routine of emailing performance clips to some of his friends and former colleagues. One of his emails went to Biaze Houston, his principal when he first arrived at East in 2017.
“When we perform, I always send her links so she knows the band is still doing well,” he said.
Houston wrote back to let him know it was a coincidence he had reached out — she had just nominated him for Colorado teacher of the year.
In September, Day was announced as one of the finalists for the upcoming award.
“It’s such an honor to even be considered,” Day said in an interview with The Sentinel.
Day is one of seven teachers from across the state the Colorado Department of Education named on Sept. 1 as a finalist for the 2023 Teacher of the Year award, which the department gives out annually.
“I am extremely excited about this talented and diverse group of educators representing the teaching profession in Colorado,” Colorado Department of Education Commissioner Katy Anthes said in a news release. “We are truly grateful for all the time and intention they pour into their students, schools and communities.
An APS teacher was last honored in 2012 when Rangeview High School social studies teacher Amanda Westenberg was named teacher of the year.
Day has been with Aurora Public Schools since 2017, where he has taught music classes at East Middle School. He has been an educator for 14 years.
Originally from Detroit, Day moved to Tennessee to attend college at Tennessee State University in Nashville with his now-wife, where he originally planned to major in engineering.
However, “the passion was just not there,” he said.
Day has been a musician since the fifth grade, and was also taking classes in the university’s music department, where one of his professors continually encouraged him to change his major. In his third year of college he ended up changing his degree to music education, and got his master’s as well. It was while holding practicums in school that he discovered his love of teaching.
“The joy of sharing my knowledge (with students) and getting to see them grow, that was what really hooked me,” he said.
As a teacher, Day has a working knowledge of a wide range of instruments, but said he’s personally “a low brass guy.” His main instrument is the euphonium, which he described as “the baby version of a tuba,” and he plays tuba and trombone as well.
After graduation, Day went on to teach in Shelby County Schools in Memphis, Tennessee for six years, and then moved back to Nashville and taught there for two years. During that time his wife, also an educator, got a job offer to work in the Denver School of Science and Technology’ public schools network.
The two planned for her to move to Denver first while Day stayed behind, but he was struggling with a sense that his career was not moving forward in Nashville. He ended up taking a chance on a job opening at East, and has never looked back.
“It’s been a joy ever since I’ve been here,” Day said.
He spoke highly of the school’s leadership team and said he appreciates all the support he’s received during his time there.
“Coming here brand new, they were behind me since the first day I walked in here,” he said. “I feel a level of empowerment here that I haven’t felt in my other districts.”
That was particularly helpful during the pandemic. At the beginning of remote learning Day said he was sitting at his desk trying to figure out how he was going to teach without students being in classrooms when the principal called and said that anything he needed help with, the school was there for. As “not the most tech savvy” person, he said he appreciated the IT support he received.
Day described his teaching ethos as “rolling up your sleeves and doing the work.” As instrumental music teacher, he teaches over 100 students a semester along with directing the band’s performances at school and district-wide events. The band has received several awards during his tenure, but he said the most rewarding thing for him personally is getting to watch his students grow musically.
Day was “overjoyed” when he got the email telling him he was a finalist, and said it means a lot to know that people are watching his work.
“Education is not a pretty career to be in,” he said. “You’re going to have ups and downs, but if you put in the work you’re going to be rewarded.”
The winning candidate will be announced by the end of October, according to the state education department.