MORENO VALLEY – As an experienced high school teacher, Brian Harris was prepared for a few surprises on the last day of school. But he never expected to walk into his classroom at Valley View High School in the Moreno Valley Unified School District on Wednesday and be greeted by a host of dignitaries, cheering students, and his own four-year-old daughter Zoe running toward him with a golden crown.
“No, that was new,” Harris said after the surprise. Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, Kenneth Young, stepped out of the crowd to announce that Harris had been selected as a Riverside County Teacher of the Year for 2016, an honor bestowed to only four teachers among nearly 20,000 countywide.
Harris and three other teachers named last week – Michelle Cherland from Carrillo Ranch Elementary in Indio, Melanie Oliver from Highland Elementary in Norco, and Marisela Recendez from Myra Linn Elementary in Riverside – will advance to the 2016 California Teacher of the Year competition later this year.
Harris, who lives in Corona, has taught for 12 years, all at Valley View High School. He holds a master’s degree in English, is a mentor teacher, coaches boys and girls basketball, and is the advisor for the Valley View Superhero Society of America Club.
“It started with a senior who wanted to deliver comic books to patients in the hospital,” said Harris, who once owned his own comic book store. “It’s also a place for students to gather at lunch and talk about comic books.”
He also was recently named as one of 60 teachers, nationwide, to win the first round of the Thank America’s Teachers $2,500 educational grant program from Farmers Insurance.
Students quoted in his application for Teacher of the Year said Harris is “a charismatic teacher who inspires respect, friendship, and care from us.”
Harris on Wednesday thanked coworkers for their support, but especially lauded his students: “I wouldn’t be standing here getting this award if not for my students. They are the main thing. They make me better.”
Harris said in his application that he tries to remember little things about each of his students, to check in with them often, and make sure they know he is always thinking about them. “I try to teach in a human and humane way,” he wrote. “I want my students to know that I care for them and respect them.”
His family was on hand Wednesday for his surprise award, including his wife Gina and daughters Mihalia, Allisa, and Zoe, who Harris said has been carrying that golden crown for weeks after he received it for being named the district’s teacher of the year. “She has been calling me her hero dad,” he said.
The Riverside County Teachers of the Year are selected from nearly 20,000 educators in the county. They complete an arduous application process requiring the candidates to spend time reflecting on and carefully defining their teaching philosophy. The county teachers of the year are selected on the basis of nominations by teachers, principals, and school district administrators throughout the county. Applications are then submitted to the County Office of Education, where an outside selection committee reviews the applications on each district candidate and selects the four finalists. The selection committee then conducts on-site classroom visitations for each finalist before the county superintendent announces the Riverside County Teachers of the Year.