Teachers are often the adults in our lives that we remember fondly. Each one gives so much to future generations. The great ones know how to bring academics to life in a way that we will never forget. Tumwater Middle School teacher Tony Harris is one such example of a devoted educator who is equally passionate about the sciences and his students. Over the years, Tony has been grateful for so many opportunities to shape education for his community in a way that makes learning fun, unique and memorable for each student.
Tumwater Middle School Teacher’s Lifelong Pursuit in Education
Tony is a Washingtonian who grew up in Port Angeles. He moved to California in the eighth grade and graduated high school in Arroyo Grande. Upon graduating, he pursued higher education at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles and earned his bachelor’s degree in 2001. Right away, he went on to earn his master’s degree and California Teaching Credential and had both by 2003. “At the time, I thought my calling was elementary school,” Tony recalls. “I swore I would never teach middle school, but after observing and volunteering, I realized elementary wasn’t for me. The middle schoolers were amazing! They got my humor, had dreams, and weren’t too cool for school yet, so they still enjoyed learning.”
With his minor in mathematics, Tony decided to take a position teaching a math and science block class where he would work with the same group of kids for a couple hours. He ended up returning to school to earn a single subject credential for biology and upper-level science, and after switching from math to science, he has never looked back. In 2006, Tony returned to Washington to be closer to his parents after the birth of his daughter. At the time, the state wasn’t offering classes for out-of-state teachers to transfer their credentials, so Tony earned his National Board Teaching Credential. He landed a position with Tumwater Middle School and has been there ever since.
Tumwater School District Pilots New Resources Through Tony’s Support
Teaching at Tumwater Middle School as a science teacher has been a blessing thanks to the amazing students, incredible faculty and supportive district office. Seven years ago, the school moved sixth grade to the middle school level, and needed some new curriculum resources to meet the needs of their new students. “The district told us we needed to pick out some resources in a month, and I knew this was a big investment that we wanted to do right,” Tony shares. “We ended up using NextGen TIME, which is a process that identifies high-quality science curriculum resources aligned with NextGen science standards.” Tumwater Middle School ended up piloting development at Argan National Laboratory in Chicago.
Tony and the team went through complex professional learning, where they were able to dive into different resources, pick them apart and look at them from a student’s lens. Once it was ready, they were able to run it with Tumwater School District and found the first year to be a great success. Because of this, Tony was asked by NextGen TIME to train a district in Wyoming, and was later invited to a symposium at Carnegie Institute in fall of 2019 to share the teacher voice amongst curriculum designers. Being part of all of this amazing development has led to science curriculum being much more robust and applicable for students. “Now instead of just having a list of facts kids should know, we are actually doing science that encourages kids to learn how to have a great argument and support their claims with real evidence,” says Tony.
Tony Harris Promotes STEM Fields with Engaging Science Classes and School Clubs
Thanks to more fully developed standards around the sciences, Tony’s curriculum can include so much more hands-on learning to really get students engaged and thinking critically. Outside of his classroom, Tony has spearheaded and supported a number of clubs to promote STEM fields with the next generation. “We had an ecology club where we would actually go out and do water quality testing in partnership with the Thurston County Conservation District,” recalls Tony. “We ended up being one of the very first Washington Green Schools because the kids collected the data and figured out suggestions for the district to conserve energy and use water resources.”
Tony also formed a robotics club where some of his students even went to state, but unfortunately, the club fizzled out with the pandemic. Tony started a virtual STEM club with videos and home challenges to keep students engaged in science even during quarantine periods. Once they were back in person, he joined up with the Technology Student Association and started a program for Tumwater students interested in technology. “The kids have to decide what events they want to participate in, so some were writing children’s books, programming video games, and even sewing outfits,” Toy says. “In the last two years, I took kids to state tournaments as their advisor and they won some plaques. I was so proud of them!”
With his own kids in high school, he no longer has time to continue TSA, but does run his own STEM club to keep the sciences alive in fun ways. They meet once a month and conduct a new experiment, ranging from blowing up pumpkins to photography. For Tony, all of this has given him so much to love about teaching and has shown him how important it is for our developing generation to have mentors they trust and connect with. “If we pour into kids’ lives, they are more apt to stay out of trouble,” he says. “Teenagers are amazing, and we shouldn’t be scared of them. We need to wrap them up in love and spend as much time with them as possible.”