Undergraduate Academic Affairs

November 1, 2011

Tim Harris: Academic pride in Motor City

Undergraduate Academic Affairs

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Tim Harris

Tim says, “My students make me want to teach. Every day I walk into the classroom, and I know that I have some of the brightest minds in the country.”

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Tim Harris (’10), an Honors alumnus and former student employee of First Year Programs, is currently a volunteer with Teach For America in Detroit at the Marvin L. Winans Academy of Performing Arts. After receiving encouragement from friends and family to participate in Teach For America, and not having a solid post-graduation plan, he enrolled in the program. However, he didn’t feel the inspiration to teach until he was actually in his teaching job, and connecting with students. “My students make me want to teach. Every day I walk into the classroom, and I know that I have some of the brightest minds in the country, but because of the lack of resources my students have had in the past, they haven’t been able to demonstrate their genius.”

Tim Harris and studentsCuriosity and commitment inspire Tim. “In my students, I call it the ’So what you’re saying’ moment. Whenever my students are able to respond to discussions, labs, or lessons with a ’So, what you’re saying is…’ and build a valid point, [it] gives me chills. Or, when students ask ‘why” or ’how’ and are relentless in getting an answer, I feel the urge to support them in answering these questions.” And what about when students get frustrated? “I am always re-inspired whenever a student says ‘I’m going to get this.’ Pushing through adversity is a challenge that is important to the success of students, and to see that in my classroom makes me proud.”

Tim’s number one influence is his dad. “I learned how to network from him, how to stay organized, and how to keep my car running. He never had a college education, yet he has incredible social intelligence. Despite the countless hours he puts in at work—he sacrifices a lot for his family—he always made sure that my siblings and I [were] supported, so that we could attend college.”

Pushing him to ask questions even when he thought he had the answer, Tim’s high school English teacher, Mrs. Martin, taught him the most in school. “So I guess all the Google searches and general quandaries I’ve had about the world are a result of her. I appreciated that she got me so energized that I had to take ownership of my own learning.”

Tim is teaching advanced placement chemistry to seniors this year, and was initially concerned that his students would be too intimidated to handle the high level of work. He was proven wrong. These students are “on a mission. [They] come to class and work immediately. Students’ frustrations turn into motivation to get the right answers. Students support one another; when one student dropped out of [advanced placement], the rest rallied to get her back to the class.”

In the classroom, Tim doesn’t have a motto—his students came up their own. “[They] came up with their own chant that they yell at the top of their lungs at the end of every day. It goes, ‘We’re smart, and we know it, and we ain’t afraid to show it, AP chemistry!’ For students to be so proud of their intelligence is remarkable.”

Since this is Tim’s second year as a Teach For America corps member, his commitment to the program will finish in spring 2012. “The current game plan is to be in medical school by the age of 30; so I have a six-year plan. That gives me six years to travel the world, pick up a new hobby, learn how to make the perfect guacamole, and make a positive impact on 10,000 lives. I’d like to see my juniors get into the college of their dreams; I’ll need one more year in the classroom to do that. But there are a few other opportunities I’m looking into right now, in education and elsewhere, but we’ll just have to wait to see.”