Megan Harris, Wines Elementary first grade teacher

Megan Harris grew up the youngest of five children in a blended family in Mattawan/Schoolcraft, Michigan. Her father, Jerry Harris, owns a semi company, her mother, Lisa Harris-Smith, is a secretary at a local business, and her step-father, Mike Smith, builds homes.

Harris moved to the east side of the state as a first-generation college student attending the University of Michigan. She later completed her master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Michigan and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Michigan State University in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology. Her research is focused on supporting equitable instruction through Universal Design for Learning using technology to minimize barriers to student engagement and maximize student choice.

Harris enjoys mentoring pre-service teachers and has a mentor-teacher partnership with the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan. This is her sixth year teaching. 

Harris recently received the Exceptional Educator Award from WXYZ. The nomination came from parent submission and the award comes with $1000 to Wines Elementary and a pizza party for her class. 

Principal David DeYoung says Megan Harris is “simply outstanding in every way.”
“Her instructional approach is consistently innovative and differentiated to meet the variable needs in her classroom,” he says. “Megan is also a calming and mature presence for everyone in our school. Students and adults alike know that she will be consistent, patient, and supportive. Perhaps Megan’s best quality is that she is always looking to improve her own practice to best serve students.”

Harris is recently engaged to Ben Eikey—who comes from a family of educators—and together they live in Plymouth. She says that finding a work/life balance has never been more challenging than as a Ph.D. student, GSI, and teacher, but that her Google calendar helps. She loves spending time with family and friends, whether it’s a planned event or a late-night phone call.

When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?
I did not think this would be such a hard question to answer. I remember a lot but also it seems like a blur too. I remember the funny things students shared, how caring my group was, and doing lots of work outside of school to prepare for each day. 

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
SAVE, LAMINATE, and ORGANIZE important things. My second year of teaching felt more relaxed than my first year because I spent so much time in my first year making materials that can last.  

Any tips for classroom management?
Build strong relationships. I start this through optional home visits. The one-hour visit can be a dinner, a tour, a backyard bonfire, or anything in between but the time it takes to do home visits always repays for itself many times over again.

Can you elaborate on those benefits? 
During a home visit, I’m able to connect with a student outside of core academics. I get to hear more about their interests and routines and connect with their family. Home visits allow me to make student learning more engaging and authentic. For example, if I know a student loves trucks because they showed me their extensive collection at home, I can support that love in our classroom. That might include reminding the student of their truck collection when they are struggling to pick a writing topic or utilizing their truck knowledge to extend our math lesson. 

It’s important to note that home visits are not easy. Visiting for over 20 hours in a span of two to three months takes a ton of my personal time. I can completely understand why this is not a practice that everyone is able to do. For me, walking up to someone’s front door and seeing them jumping on the couch with excitement because their teacher is here to learn more about them is a joy I continue to look forward to each year. 

What inspired you to become a teacher?
I had two exceptional middle school teachers that truly cared about me, beyond academics. One particular teacher would chat with me for hours after school about life, goals, and everything in between. These relationships supported me more than they could ever know and I just want to be that support for other children. 

In your six years in AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning?
What isn’t done today will be there tomorrow. An exceptional teacher is one who cares deeply about themselves too. If you do not take care of yourself you will not be able to be the best version of yourself. 

What was always written on your report card in grade school?
“Megan is always helping others.” 

Describe an average workday. 
I wake up, brew some espresso, get to Wines and teach, quickly get home and make dinner, either workout/night classes, get caught up on homework, and then wrap up the night catching up with loved ones. 

What’s the happiest part of your day?
Making dinner with my fiancé.

What’s one of your hidden talents?
I don’t think I have any hidden talents, but I see myself as a great cook. 

Describe your perfect meal. Who would be at the table, where would you be, and what would you be eating?
Unlimited crab legs with an ocean/mountains backdrop surrounded by friends and family. 

Do you have a morning routine?
Yes, and it involves a balance between personal time and catching up with others, but coffee/tea is always involved. 

Apps you can’t live without: 
I can live without them, but I’m shamelessly very into watching stupid TikTok videos as a way to get my mind off of my never-ending to-do. 

If you could know the definitive answer to any one question, what would that question be?
I have been driving the same car since I was 16 years old. It currently has 216,000 miles. (I would recommend a Toyota Prius!) I am nervous about the day when this car dies because car payments are scary. I would like to know how long I have until I need to get a new car. 

What makes teaching at Wines unique?
The staff. Every single person in our building is 100 percent there every day to ensure that kids are safe, have fun, and love learning. Everyone truly cares about each other. 

How do you keep students engaged?
Every year is different, but as long as I create an environment that is supportive and understands equity vs equality then my students are naturally engaged because their unique needs are met. 

How do you show school spirit?
Enjoying and participating in spirit weeks–we love a good pajama day! 

What is the most rewarding part of teaching? The most challenging?
The most rewarding part of teaching is seeing the “ah-ha” moments! The most challenging can be balancing everything while still focusing on your own mental health. 

What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
What’s known is that teachers are very underpaid; however, what is unknown is truly how much work goes into teaching every day. Teaching multiple subjects, managing behaviors, fostering a community of learners, supporting social/emotional needs, and connecting with my colleagues can be overwhelming and exhausting. It takes a community to sustain and I feel fortunate to have that community; however, not every teacher is as lucky. 

How do you decompress?
Decompressing from stress is important. I use exercise to help and particularly love hot yoga, long walks, and fancy group workout classes.

How do you spend your summers?
I love traveling near and far in the summers. My favorite place is probably Tatlayoko Lake, British Columbia where I get to spend time with family, hike, and completely unplug since the closest town is three hours away.

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
Pursuing my Ph.D. is exhausting as a full-time working teacher, but it’s exceptionally rewarding and makes my research relevant. In my personal life, I am enjoying the wedding planning process (most days), but I am most excited about spending the rest of my life with the most amazing person. 

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