CEDAR RAPIDS — At St. Pius X Catholic Elementary in Cedar Rapids, fifth-grade teacher Jim Harris said he designates at least 30 minutes a day to discussing religion with his students.
“You can get into deeper topics and deeper discussions, and I like that,” said Harris, 45. “I especially love the conversations we have about our faith. As a Catholic school, we really get into some heavy conversations about God and our faith and morality. Those are interesting.”
Students ask about off-the-wall scenarios, Harris said, about Christian philosophy.
“I like it when it’s personal to them — they’re asking questions and it’s meaningful to their lives,” he said.
Harris has taught at St. Pius for 11 years. He earned a teaching degree from Mount Mercy College more than a decade ago. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Iowa.
The Gazette is featuring Harris as part of an ongoing series of stories spotlighting educators in the Corridor. To nominate someone to be featured, send an email to Molly Duffy, K-12 education reporter, at email@example.com.
Q: Name a few things you always have on your desk.
A: I always have my lesson plan book and photo of my students and me with Archbishop (of Dubuque Michael) Jackels on my desk.
Q: What are few of your favorite lessons to teach?
A: I love teaching novel units, especially for “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and “Tuck Everlasting.” I also really enjoy teaching about the Revolutionary War.
Q: What’s the funniest thing a student has ever said to you?
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A: Can’t remember for sure, but the funniest thing a kid ever did to me was giving me one of those fake $10,000 lottery tickets.
I joke around all the time with the kids, so it’s hard to remember the funniest thing anyone ever said to me. I hear hilarious stuff all the time.
Q: What’s one of the harder conversations you’ve had at school?
A: I’ve had plenty of difficult conversations, but can’t get too specific due to professional confidentiality. It’s hard to bring up students’ struggles, but when it’s clear that you, as the teacher, and the parents have a common goal, the success of their child, that helps build an effective team effort.
Q: What made you decide to be a teacher?
A: I was working in computer software, when the company I worked for went bankrupt. I knew that wasn’t the path for me, so I was trying to decide on my next direction. I had coached for the Metro Youth Football Association and loved it. My sister-in-law suggested I look into teaching since I loved working with the kids so much as a coach. Best move I ever made!
Q: What do you think is the most important thing students learn in your class?
A: My students learn that I believe in them, have high expectations for them, and want them to be productive, informed citizens while being like Christ for the world.
Q: What would you be doing if you weren’t a teacher?
A: I always thought I’d love to be a fishing guide up in Minnesota or Canada.
Q: What’s the latest you’ve stayed at school?
A: Until 8 p.m. on some conference nights.
Q: What’s something your students probably don’t know about you?
A: They probably don’t know how often, how much, I think about them outside of school — worries, teaching ideas, ways to do something new, frustrations, etc.
Q: Best trick to get students to pay attention?
A: I joke around with the kids a lot. Also, I’m pretty straightforward with them when it’s time to focus, (but) I don’t make them sit for hours on end. I always give them breaks after about 45 minutes during long stretches of desk time to stand, stretch and get the blood flowing back to their brains.
Q: What do you like about your school?
A: I love teaching where I do. This is not an exaggeration at all, but our staff, students and parents are like a giant family. I’ve lost both of my parents, and the support I received from everyone during those difficult times has been incredible. I really do love my colleagues like family members — they’re the best, bar none!
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The Gazette is continuing a series to spotlight educators in the Corridor. To nominate someone to be featured, send an email to Molly Duffy, K-12 education reporter, at email@example.com. Please include information about the educator and why you think they stand out in their profession.