Van Harris, a fifth-grade science teacher at Maria Moreno STEAM Academy, knows how to motivate his students to go above and beyond. For example, he had a student miss just one question on her common assessment test last year. As he was guiding his class through setting goals for their upcoming State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test, this student decided she wanted to aim for a perfect score.
“I said, ‘OK, we’re going to focus on that goal,’” Harris said. “So I got her packets on the one TEKS she missed, and from that point on we did packets and different activities on that TEKS over and over. Then on the STAAR test, she got them all correct. I’ve never seen that before in my life.”
Harris, who is Maria Moreno’s 2022-2023 campus teacher of the year, said he credits his passion for education and transforming student lives to his family. He comes from a long line of teachers, starting with his great-great-grandfather and continuing onto one of Harris’ own daughters.
After 24 years of teaching, Harris has countless student success stories. Some of his top classroom strategies include creating clear procedures for his students’ day-to-day operations, modeling behaviors he wants to see from them and taking advantage of resources and partnerships to increase engagement.
Maria Moreno has a partnership with OutTeach, a nonprofit that trains teachers to use the outdoors to improve math, science and language arts instruction, and Harris said he has loved incorporating outdoor activities into his lesson plans.
During a weathering and erosion activity, he had his students gather rocks and put them in tubes of water. He then played Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” while his students danced and shook their closed tubes. By the end of the song, he said his students poured out the rocks and were able to see how “smooth and shiny” they were.
“When you make those connections hands on, the students are committed and they never forget,” Harris said. “That’s why I enjoy this particular subject. Students are interested in space and the world, and they’re always asking questions.”
While teaching can be challenging, Harris said he is thankful for the opportunities he has had to make memorable moments in the classroom and ensure that his students are on their way to being college and career ready.
“I love teaching science because science is life,” Harris said. “My students have learned a lot, and they are proud of that. I am pretty proud of them, too.”