May 8 is National Teacher Day along with the entire week being Teacher Appreciation Week. Erika Harmer who teaches third-grade at Chauncey Davis Elementary School in South Bend has been with the district for the past 17 years and is commended by her peers as being passionate about teaching each and every day.
Harmer grew up in Montesano and graduated from Montesano High School in the Class of 1989. She began her teaching career in 1993 with the Hoquiam School District teaching at Emerson Elementary. "I worked with Hoquiam for about 8 years before coming over to South Bend," she said. "I believe it was back in 2001 I came to work here and I've been here ever since. I just love it here and I hope to finish my career here some day. This is my 25th year of teaching and I just love it!"
From a young age she had a desire to become a teacher. Her mother worked as a paraprofessional for many years and was also a school board president. "My mom said she realized when I was about 4, I wanted to be a teacher," Harmer stated. "She would see me teaching my puppets. So I think I've wanted to be a teacher ever since I was very little. I was exposed to teaching from a very young age and just found my way into it."
Teachers are often overlooked for the job they do. Teaching is not only difficult, but mentally and emotionally straining. Each year in September students arrive back to school and teachers receive a new classroom of students of whom they have to get from point A to point B by June. "We don't really get a day off or vacation," Harmer stated. "Most of my summers are spent here preparing for next year. I take notes all year of what worked and what didn't so I can have a plan for the next school year."
Harmer admits that one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is the challenge of each new school year and the reward at the end of the year when she sees student progress. "It's just amazing to see and even more amazing to be a part of," she said. "When they start the year and are reading around 40-50 words a minute and come June are reading around 90 or more. You really get to see the work you've done and it just makes all the hard work through the year worth it." She continued, "from when they start the year and when they leave they're so different. They mature so much socially and almost double their abilities by the end of the year and it's so exciting. Even when they come in above the game or under they each make so much growth."
When asked what's been the hardest part of her teaching career Harmer made note that over the last several years the state and federal government have implemented stricter guidelines. Districts in the nation are now seeing teachers divert precious time to meeting those expectations. "In the last few years the time that the state wants you to do all this extra paperwork on top of what your teaching is a major challenge," she stated. "You want to be in the classroom for the kids and doing what's best for the students. Sometimes people outside the school that don't really understand schools are telling you that you have to do x-y-z and have to document it all on paper. So I guess it's all the extra that's not exactly in the best nature for the kids."
She continued, "it just makes it so much harder. All the documentation that has to be done to prove your jumping through all the hoops. Basically to prove you are doing what you're already supposed to be doing."
As far as highlights of her career as a teacher, Harmer almost had no words because she felt there was far too many to even mention. "I think probably one the biggest highlights for me is starting over each September. It's about this time of year when I start getting really excited thinking about what I'm going to do to change the class room, I just can't stand things staying the same. So really it's just the starting all over each September."
She continued, "one highlight I can think of in my career was when I was in Hoquiam and received a big grant for technology. I was one of the first teachers to get the newer bubble-looking iMacs. Being one of the first teachers to get a grant to bring computers into my classroom was super exciting."
Chauncey Davis Principal Kresta Byington has worked with Harmer for the past 15 years and formally was a teacher-partner with her for two years before becoming principal. "Erika is very passionate about teaching and is very professional," she stated. "She is able to make the best of any situation even when she has challenging students. She's always problem solving the best way to handle circumstances. She's just always happy, always kind, and always willing to take on whatever challenge education brings."
Likewise, Superintendent Jon Tienhaara had only positive words for Harmer. "What can I say, she's a great elementary teacher and the kids just love her," he stated. "Honestly, all I've ever heard from students and her fellow peers is that they all love her and she has a great ability to meet with each individual kid. She reaches them in a unique way that makes a difference in their life. She's just a great example of what it's all about at the early elementary grades."
Tienhaara, Byington and Harmer herself expressed all teachers are greatly appreciated for all the hard work they do day-in and day-out helping students be successful in their educational journey. "You can pretty much say great things about all the teachers in our district and alike," Tienhaara stated. "We have a very dedicated group of professionals here and it's very obvious good things are happening here and it sure makes working here a lot of fun. To have a staff you can count on to get the job done, it's nice."