Citizen Christina Harris’ passion for teaching and love for her students are just two of the reasons she was honored as Southside Elementary’s and Giles County’s overall 2021 Teacher of the Year for Grades Five-Eight.

The SES teacher, whose degrees include a Bachelor of Arts in English and TESOL certification (teaching English to speakers of other languages) and a Master of Science in Education (Special Education), is now in her fifth year teaching third, fourth and fifth grade Special Education at the school.

“Christina Harris is one of the most caring individuals I have ever met,” CDC Educational Assistant Kristy Long said. “Watching Mrs. Christina’s passion for giving children a voice has been one of my favorite experiences. Every child who enters her classroom is loved and treated with compassion. The world could use more people like Mrs. Harris.”

Harris’ teaching philosophy is centered around the belief that “all children can and will learn.”

CS-Christina Harris

“I strive to challenge my students, so they can reach their fullest potential,” Harris explained. “I want my students to have the best quality of life, so I work hard every day to ensure they can have just that and be as independent as possible.

“Most importantly, every single person should have a voice and I do everything I can to give all of my students a voice.”

CDC Educational Assistant Anthony Brooks recognizes the passion and devotion Harris brings to the classroom each day.

“She creates fun and effective learning tasks for the students according to their educational needs and her determination to teach nonverbal students to communicate is amazing,” Brooks explained.

Harris has had no shortage of teaching influences in her life beginning with her grandmother.

“Growing up, I was able to watch my grandmother, Chris Stampfly, nurture and teach children at church and at home — I always wanted to be just like her and help others.

“At Martin Methodist College, Dr. Kayla Wiggins never stopped believing in me; she pushed me and challenged me to be the best I could be. I now strive to do just that for my students; sometimes, life gets tough. That’s okay. We can just push forward and end up stronger than we were to begin with.”

Teaching mentors and influences have occurred throughout her life and career, including her very first teaching position at King’s Daughters’ School Center for Autism.

“When I started working at King’s Daughters’ School ... I met Annette Hatfield (currently director there) and as soon as I saw Annette’s compassion and determination, I knew I wanted to be just like her.”

Other influences along the way include Dr. Misty Parsley and Dr. Annette Little at Lipscomb University, where Harris earned her master’s, and now, coming full-circle, her current administration.

“Little did I know that my amazing first grade teacher Daryl Brindley and my awesome eighth grade science teacher Carmen Hayes would one day serve as my administration as Assistant Principal and Principal. They not only impacted my growing and developing mind a long time ago, but they continue to mold and shape me into a better teacher. They are wonderful role models for me.”

For Brindley, watching Harris grow into the teacher she has become has been an honor.

“Educating the students of Giles County is truly her passion and teaching is her gift,” Brindley shared. “She is a hard worker and lifelong learner. She is calm, caring, compassionate, dedicated, loving and, above all else, loyal to her students.  

“Christina and her assistants have worked together to help students learn to read, communicate and make unbelievable gains. She not only works with students in her classroom, but is always available to help others who might need a little encouragement. Mrs. Harris is truly an asset at Southside Elementary.”

Harris’ life outside the classroom is just as fulfilling. She and husband Brandon Chandler Harris have four children — Emma, Sophie, Iris and Jensen — who range in age from toddler to young teen. She loves to get lost in a good book and is an avid genealogist.

“Christina Harris has found her true calling in life as a special education teacher,” SES Principal Carmen Hayes said. “Her love for her students is evident daily, as she celebrates developmental and academic milestones.

“Her students’ families will tell you they have been blessed by being in her classroom. Her program has been life-changing for some students because they have learned to communicate for the first time in her classroom. As her former middle school teacher, I couldn’t be prouder of Mrs. Harris!”

For Harris, it’s a team effort.

“In my classroom, we are a family, we support each other and cheer each other on,” she explained. “Yes, my students receive help from others, but I also teach them they can help others, too. Together, we identify their strengths and work on increasing them. I love nothing more than watching my students grow.

“I am blessed to work with those whom I work with, and I am so blessed to have the most awesome students!”

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