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Unconventional upbringing influences eccentric educator (VIDEO)

A new job at FC, eager high school students with intimidating stares and new environments can seem daunting for anyone, but especially for someone who lived in Taiwan since he was 11.

Harris takes over science department, introduces Mandrine Chinese

Dan Harris, the new high school science and Mandarin Chinese teacher, may have a lot on his plate, but he has enjoyed his experience at FC thus far, and looks toward the year with great anticipation.

“I am extremely blessed and excited to be teaching at Fresno Christian this year,” Harris said. “My experience here with all the students and other teachers has been wonderful; the students are accepting and the teachers are very helpful. Being the ‘newbie’ at school this year, I feel like everyone has embraced me and the students seem to put up with me.”

Instead of participating in the science department with other teachers, Harris stepped into the position managing the entire branch on his own. In addition to instructing biology, chemistry and physics, Harris adds onto the language department with Mandarin Chinese.

“Designing a curriculum for four different subjects is challenging, but definitely worth it,” Harris said. “I feel really supported and blessed to have many people watching out for me. There is a lot of work, grading, making tests and so on. I also get my classes mixed up, at least at the beginning of the year when they are covering similar material. On the flip side, I never get bored with any of this stuff. It is super fun to teach a rounded curriculum.”

Instead of restricting his courses to the basic routines, Harris eagerly seeks out unconventional means of instruction. During the second week of school, he led his classes in various labs, such as burning up gummy worms, in order to familiarize his students with the basics of science.

“I had three main reasons for preforming the first experiments: to teach the students about scientific method, how to be safe when doing a lab and to let the students bond not only with each other, but also with me,” Harris said.

Through the gummy worm experiment, junior Kevin Thao has noticed the variety of techniques that Harris uses to teach his classes.

“Mr. Harris uses his diverse knowledge to get everyone laughing,” Thao said. “I’m always at the edge of my seat about to laugh. Mr. Harris is different because he teaches us in a way that gets our heads moving not only mentally, but also physically, which I think is super fun.”

Besides engaging his classes through experiments, Harris aims to communicate with and relate to his students.

“I can really clearly remember how it was to be in high school, so I can put myself in your shoes and that’s why I can understand students,” Harris said. “I remember sometimes feeling lost and hoping the teacher would be available to explain concepts I missed. So, I stay after school to answer questions students have. I also remember how out of touch with my life many teachers seemed. I felt that was counter-productive to our learning.”

At the forefront of his classroom standards, Harris ensures students that he leads in love rather than by inflicting fear. Through this, he welcomes students to approach him with concerns and without the fear of an overly-strict response.

“If there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out of fear, because fear has to do with punishment,” Harris said. “If the students are loving the subject, then they never need to fear punishment and everyone can be in the ‘love bubble.’ If God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of love, and a sound mind, then it strikes me that to empower studentsto think for themselves, I must follow God’s example.”

Although she has only been in Harris’s biology class for a short amount of time, freshman Ivette Ibarra has already noticed a balance of respect and entertainment. Through this combination, she is able to both enjoy the class and go home with knowledge.

“I am really enjoying being in Mr. Harris’s class,” Ibarra said. “I am having fun learning biology, I thought that would never be possible. He treats us with respect so it is early easy to respect him. I have learned a lot, and its not boring at all, I laugh the whole time, and when I do my homework I realize that I know a lot.”

Childhood in the South, Taiwan mold Harris’s life

Originally from the deep South, Harris and his family moved to Taiwan when he was 11. Coming from a spectrum of cultures, Harris has faced challenges, especially having to adapt to a number of environments.

“It was a huge culture shock, and I went to school there and picked up the language; that’s where the Mandarin Chinese part comes in,” Harris said. “I encountered several interesting things there.”

With a wide array of experiences gained in Taiwan, Harris moved to Fresno in 2000. Although there were some similarities between the cultures, he still had to learn how to adjust back to the American culture.

“I went to high school there, and later I competed in gymnastics competitions, at college level and it was really cool to be faced with such a different society,” Harris said. “The culture there is very much like the South because they are very family-oriented, food-oriented and the value of heritage [sic]. When I came back to the states for college, it was hard for me to adjust because, at first, I felt like I didn’t fit in in a way.”

Harris faced many challenges when he first came back to America for college, including language barriers and the fear of fitting in. However, he soon found a niche at California State University, Fresno.

“I had to adjust to the culture here, and I found a group of friends that I liked, and one day my friend asked me to come to an open gym for [Fresno State] cheer,” Harris said. “I tried it out and loved it; they were all really cool people, and I was a gymnast at that time so it worked out perfectly!”

As a teacher’s assistant in Mandarin Chinese and a student in biology, sophomore, Elora Hargis, has the opportunity to observe the effects of Harris’s backgrounds in two different settings.

“So far he has been really cool around the students,” Hargis said. “He is such an interesting person because where he has come from and who he is. In Chinese, he teaches the traditional way with a Taiwanese accent, and everything is very traditional, the way he was taught by Taiwanese people.”

Having encountered so many personalities and traits, Harris has learned to accept the various types of learning techniques in students.

“An interesting thing is that he caters to everyone’s learning abilities because he has a little bit of each personality in him,” Hargis said. “For people who are musical, he lets them sit and strum his guitar to help them learn. He embraces their mindset and learning ability and he teaches through it. No other teacher really allows all of those different types of learning in their classroom.”

Through his many experiences and opportunities, Harris has come to a better understanding of his faith. Now in the role of a teacher, he hopes to spread those personal lessons into the lives of his students.

“God has definitely carried me through my years here back in the states. I have had to learn to give my concerns to him in order to move forward, and he has always delivered,” Harris said. “I am very grateful to be teaching here at FC, because I can freely exemplify God’s love to all you young people!”

For more profiles, read the Aug. 29 article, Meet your 2011-12 ASB officers.

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