The Keller district elementary teacher of the year finds it easy to relate to her young students that struggle.
Faith Harris, first grade teacher at Freedom Elementary School, was a struggling reader until her fourth grade teacher helped her and inspired her to do better.
“I didn’t like to read in front of people, and I didn’t want that to happen in my classroom,” Harris said. “I want to encourage them to get better from wherever they are.”
Along with her positive approach to instruction, Harris also makes a point of visiting her students in their homes or at their big events, dropping by their birthday parties and attending baptisms and recitals.
“It lets my kids know I care and makes for better communication with the home. Parents see that their child is not just a number to me,” she said.
Harris has taught for eight years, all but the first at Freedom Elementary after moving to the area from Florida.
When she was considering careers, a lot of people told her to go into a field that made more money. Her husband, D’Juan Harris, urged her to follow her heart and do what she really wanted to do.
Her husband continues to inspire her because he doesn’t allow being confined to a wheelchair to prevent him from achieving his goals.
“Every day I look at him and all he is able to accomplish, and I see I can do it, too,” she said.
When she learned she was named district elementary teacher of the year, she emailed her fourth grade teacher.
“I thanked her for the impact she had on my life,” Harris said. “That’s all a teacher wants, is to be recognized.”
‘A school mom’
The KISD secondary teacher of the year has an open door policy before and after school, whether the students are in her class or not.
Carolyn Helm, seventh grade Math and AVID teacher at Trinity Springs Middle School, encourages kids to hang out in her room.
Before school, they need only to tell the hall monitor that they are going to Mrs. Helm’s class to be allowed out of the school’s typical holding areas.
“Not every kid feels confident with the cafeteria or gym full of students,” she said. “If they’re more confident, they’re more successful.”
They can work on homework, get extra help or just to talk with a teacher who listens. Over time, she’s urged some students to provide tutoring for others.
“I just want them to know they have a teacher who really cares about them, a place they can always go,” Helm said.
She also tries to instill in them a desire to help the larger community. Helm has led students to participate in walks for autism and diabetes and collects dog treats for the Keller animal shelter.
In her 20 year teaching career, she started out in early elementary but soon moved to middle school, what many consider the most challenging age to teach.
“I was thinking if I went into middle school, I could make it better for kids,” she said. “They have a lot going on. Their bodies are changing, there’s peer pressure and they’re making important life decisions.”
Helm views teaching as her life’s calling. She can’t remember ever wanting to do anything other than teach. As a child, she used to take a small blackboard and hang it on the side of the house and make up lessons for her little sister.
She wants her students to consider her “ a school mom” and hopes her encouragement can build their self-assurance.
“Above all, I want our students prepared to face the world. Yes, they should leave with academic knowledge, but it’s more important they leave with confidence,” Helm said. “They can tackle whatever comes their way if they believe in themselves and choose to make a difference.”
Sandra Engelland, 817-431-2231