Andi Harris is an LAUSD middle school teacher who has been a part of the Skirball family for ten years. We recently spoke with Andi to hear her thoughts on her practice and the impact she hopes to have on her students.
Who were some of the teachers or educators who inspired you to become a teacher? What do you think made them so special?
I feel fortunate to say that I had a lot of teachers who inspired me growing up. I think the quality that they all shared was a true passion for their jobs, and that meant that they honestly cared for their students. My best teachers helped me stay excited about learning, and they made me feel supported at school.
What impact do you hope to have on your own students?
I hope to inspire my students to be good people and to care about the people and the world around them. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s true. My students have to work a lot with different partners and groups in my classroom, and I believe that a big part of my job is to teach students how to communicate and work together and to give them opportunities to practice this. Sure, I want them to remember information we are talking about, do well on tests, and become lifelong learners. But I believe that being a good person who cares about and can communicate effectively with others is so much more important.
What are some of the lessons you’ve created that you’re most proud of in your career?
I love when my students get excited about doing something new or different. Sometimes it is a big project, like the time travelers’ scrapbook about ancient India project I’ve done in the past. But sometimes it’s just a little activity that helps them understand vocabulary a little bit better, like when they have to draw a simple picture and write their vocabulary words first with their dominant hand and then with their non-dominant hand. A lot of the lessons and activities that I have been most proud of have been inspired by the Teaching Our World Through the Arts (TOWTA) series at the Skirball. I have had my students create dance moves and raps about vocabulary words, and they have created tableaux and skits to show scenes from book and from history. I like my students to think outside the box, and I encourage them to use a variety of strategies that access their multiple intelligences to help them learn and study.
What is it about professional development at the Skirball that has kept you coming back?
I have been coming to the Skirball for TOWTA on and off for almost 10 years now. Like most LAUSD teachers, I have been working for years to move up on the salary point scale, so of course that is one motivation for continuing to take these classes. But the TOWTA workshops are unique. They are fun, hands-on, engaging, and inspiring. It’s hard to get up early on a Saturday to go to class all day, but these classes have kept me coming back. The presenters are usually phenomenal, and we get to jump right into art forms. The community of educators we have built over the years is also amazing. We come from all over LA and teach many different subjects and grade levels, but we find things in common, including a love for our jobs. Most people jump right into the activities we do together, and that makes our Saturdays so much more fun! When I find myself feeling like my teaching is in a rut, I look back at activities we have done in TOWTA over the years for inspiration. Even if it’s just a little activity as an opener in class, my students usually love the incorporation of the arts into what we are learning. It keeps things interesting, and art is a great way to reach both our learners who are struggling and those who need a challenge. I have always loved the arts, and the Skirball’s professional development has given me lots of way to incorporate the arts into my teaching.
What advice do you have for teachers who are just starting out in their teaching careers?
I think two of the biggest things to remember as a teacher are to be patient and to be flexible. The beginning of the school year is especially important for setting the stage and getting to know students. Be patient about having to repeat rules and directions many times, especially in the beginning of the year. Be patient with yourself, too. Not everything is going to go smoothly the first time around, and that is okay. Just like our students, we are works in progress. You have to be ready to be flexible; if you try to introduce a concept one way and students are just not getting it, it’s time to try something new. Teaching is very much about planning, but you have to be ready to be flexible and change gears quickly if students are not responding the way you thought they would. Don’t be afraid to try something creative with kids. If it doesn’t work how you think it should, that is okay, too. Sometimes we all learn more from the process than we do from a finished product. And if you need a little inspiration for creative lesson ideas, don’t be afraid to ask your students, ask other teachers, and seek out learning opportunities like those at the Skirball. One more piece of advice: try to stay positive. It’s not always easy, but keeping a positive attitude can help you get through those rough days.
Thank you, Andi, for showing up for your students with a positive attitude, patience, and a genuine eagerness for learning.
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