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Teacher Feature: David Harrison

By Barbara P. Jacoby

It’s not unusual to find River Ridge HS teacher David Harrison leading his students down the hallway with a trident or dressed up as a meatpacking worker.

The U.S. history and AP psychology teacher, who is in his 19th year of teaching, sees creating engaging lessons as critical to teaching success.

“Whether through playing a new game, participating in a class experiment, or applying their new knowledge to a seemingly nonsensical situation, if students view the classroom as exciting, they are more likely to engage and learn,” said Harrison, who was selected by his peers as the school’s 2023 Teacher of the Year. “My students can attest that I love my job, and I am truly excited to be there every day. Whether I am dressing up as Karl from the meatpacking plant to illustrate Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle or finding ways to incorporate dad jokes into lessons, I strive to create an environment where all students feel welcome and valued while also finding joy in the learning experience.”

One of his signature activities ends his U.S. history lesson on the nation’s strategies during World War II in the Pacific Theater. For the activity, students “island hop” their way across the Pacific Ocean, with islands made of colored tape on the hallway “ocean” floor, carrying supplies (Hot Wheels cars, toy airplanes, etc.) and soldiers (G.I. Joes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and other action figures from Harrison’s childhood). To win, they must create a strategy to move the most resources across the ocean as possible in a limited timeframe. Harrison assumes the role of Poseidon (complete with trident) and quizzes students about the lesson, as they make their way across. If they get an answer wrong or miss hopping on an island, they must restart.

Teaching is a family business, as both of Harrison’s parents were “incredible educators,” but he swore as a kid it wasn’t the job for him.

“Thankfully, my parents and other wonderful educators continued to encourage me to enter the profession,” said Harrison, who also coaches the school’s golf teams and sponsors the junior class. “In reflecting on my own experiences as a student and athlete, I chose to enter the profession to encourage young people to become their best selves, as so many of my own teachers and coaches had done for me.”

What can parents do to help their child be as successful as possible at school?
“Stay involved in their child’s education. I encourage parents to talk with their children about what they are learning in school, ask about their teachers and the engaging lessons they’ve had, praise them when they are successful academically, and support them when they struggle,” he said. “Being involved also includes communicating regularly with your child’s teacher and utilizing Canvas to monitor student progress, even for high school parents who often want to give their children more independence and responsibility. When parents value learning and education, their children will also.”