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Early childhood education graduate receives 2020 South Dakota Teacher of the Year Award

Amanda Harris ’07, a fourth-grade teacher at Endeavor Elementary in Harrisburg, has a knack for technology.

Amanda Harris teaching her class

She creates lesson plans where students can learn the basics of coding or better understand engineering, science and mathematics. Her engaging teaching methods and commitment to her students allowed her to receive the 2020 South Dakota Teacher of the Year Award.

While her classroom is equipped with iPads, a SMART Board and AppleTV, Harris feels that technology should only be used if it proves beneficial to students.

“Technology in the classroom comes down to are we using this properly? Is it distracting? Am I using technology for the sake of using technology or is it beneficial?” Harris said.

After graduating from South Dakota State University in 2007 with a degree in early childhood education, Harris taught third grade with Sioux Falls Catholic Schools for two years. She then found an opportunity where she could enhance the technology side of classrooms across the Midwest. Through Workplace Technologies, she trained teachers how to effectively use SMART Boards when they were popping up in classrooms across the country, replacing outdated projector and overhead systems.

“I learned that teaching adults is very similar to teaching children, we have to meet them where they are at,” she said.

Harris began to miss the classroom. When working with the Harrisburg School District on its SMART Board integration, she decided to pursue teaching again.

“I liked the direction the school district was taking,” Harris said.

Harris was hired in 2013 as a fourth-grade teacher and hasn’t looked back.

“Their autonomy draws me in. I love their independence, but they still need that scaffolding on the side. I love being able to set them up for success and give them the tools they need and watch them go,” Harris said.

To stay updated on the latest teaching and technology methods, Harris listens to podcasts and follows other teachers on social media. She said the Harrisburg School District tech integration department is very supportive. They always look for the latest apps and will come into the classroom and instruct students and teachers.

During her time with the Harrisburg district, Harris started a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) club after some of the most engaging parts of science lessons were lost due to time constraints.

“Students have to see the science, not just read about it. They have to make a mess, have to experience it, and then we have them understand it,” she said.

Through her award, Harris will engage with teachers across the state about what methods she uses in the classroom. She will also travel to Washington, D.C., to learn from Google and to Huntsville, Alabama, for “space camp.”

“It’s very bittersweet and humbling,” Harris said about receiving the award. “There is no title of ‘best’ involved here. I am now more aware of other people’s unique gifts and talents because of this.”

Harris credits her SDSU education in preparing her in her journey of being a teacher.

“I know I would not be the teacher I am today without SDSU and  the ECE program. I think so fondly of my teachers and professors that were there. They opened my eyes to student-centered education. They opened my eyes to my classroom setup, to the lessons that I teach; that it is all centered around the student’s learning.”