National Teaching Award Nominee
Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, Alexandria, Virginia
Student Nomination Story
My daughter, Rowan Dines, is an eight-year-old, who is a walking heartbeat that was born to love and to make others feel loved. Due to her dad being in the military, Rowan has moved five times since she’s been born and has attended a new school every year since preschool. Before meeting Ms. Emma Harris, Rowan was very anxious to begin school at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School (DM), not only because it was completely new to her, but because it is a very large school, with 750 children enrolled from very diverse backgrounds. The first time Rowan met Ms. Harris, she instantly gravitated to her new teacher. Immediately, upon walking into classroom, Rowan’s fears about starting a new school were put to ease by Ms. Harris as she kneeled down to speak to Rowan face-to-face and then hugged her. Rowan didn’t want to leave the Open House following their interaction and is where their journey began. There are many characteristics that make Ms. Harris an exceptional teacher and an amazing person. This is her first-year teaching at DM, but through my eyes as a parent and my daughter’s experiences, Ms. Harris appears to be a well-seasoned educator. The classroom is very diverse, with kids who speak English as a second language, various learning needs and both developmental delays and highly functioning students. Through kindness, patience, and dedication, Ms. Harris is able to meet her student’s needs, whether developmental, social, or academically, and through continuous effort and encouragement, has found a way to help each and every student thrive in her class. The beginning of the school year was difficult for my daughter socially, but through consistent parent-teacher communication, Ms. Harris was able to support Rowan’s needs and guide her through situations, teaching her life-skills, and coaching her as Rowan tested out her newly taught communication strategies. Previous to this school, Rowan was bullied on the school bus by older kids, who were verbally relentless. For example, as a kindergartner, Rowan sat up front, and as the kids got onto the bus, they would plug their noses and shout how bad ‘Rowan’ smelled (which wasn’t at all true). Anyway, after multiple interactions, Rowan began to shutdown inside, which was horrible as a parent to witness. After learning about Rowan’s previous experiences, Ms. Harris not only listened to me as a parent, but immediately advocated on Rowan’s behalf. For example, Ms. Harris searched for students both in her class and other second grades classes that had similar characteristics and behaviors that Rowan and had ‘lunch buddy’ sessions and facilitated positive communication so that when Rowan went out for recess or to other group activities, she wouldn’t be scared to interact with others. Prior to this, Rowan had asked to read by herself during recess, but afterwards, she gained enough confidence to initiate play with others, not only girls, but was even brave enough to play soccer typically only played by the boys. Such a positive and dramatic change from how Rowan began the school year! There are many things that come to mind about how Ms. Harris has positively influenced my family’s lives, specially, how I knew how much she cared for Rowan. During the first parent-teacher conference, I was in tears about Rowan and felt so helpless, and Ms. Harris reached out and held my hands and cried with me. I knew prior to that how unique and special Ms. Harris was, but at that moment, I actually felt how much she cared for my daughter. Ms. Harris also helped Rowan to thrive academically, specifically her writing and promotion of creativity. It’s become an outlet for Rowan and the stories, poems, songs, etc. that she brings home are amazing! I am so very grateful to all the effort that Ms. Harris puts towards encouraging learning and fostering development and social growth not only for my daughter, but for every student in her class. She truly treats her students as she would want to be treated and is able to enforce boundaries and rules without negatively raising her voice or endless threats of negative consequences. Instead, she ensures her students know what is expected of them and enforces the rules in a way that they listen without feeling devalued and instead the students want to succeed and follow Ms. Harris’ lead by example. Rowan’s initial fears and anxieties about attending DM have changed into a child who looks forward to seeing Ms. Harris and her friends daily. This was not an easy process, but is proof that caring does matter and special moments aren’t forgotten, they’re built upon; they’re left as footprints that help continually shape how a person interacts with situations. Rowan will never able to control the actions of others, but because of Ms. Harris’ influence, she has the tools to be able to face new situations with increased self-confidence and knowing what a gift of love she truly is to all those around her. In a perfect world, Ms. Harris would be Rowan’s teacher for life, but we’re happy knowing that her influence on Rowan will be with her throughout Rowan’s lifetime. Thank you Ms. Emma Harris for being you!
To see more exceptional teacher nominees, visit The Honor Roll.