Inspiring a new generation
She remembers those days at Taylor Elementary, the product of the Abilene Independent School District said. For her, it was her kindergarten, second- and third-grade teachers.
And she’s hoping somewhere down the line, a student will approach her with the same idea she had seven years ago when she first began in the noble profession.
“Maybe one day one of my students will look back and say ‘I can do what Mrs. Harless did,’” she said.
Harless was named 2019 Abilene Education Foundation Elementary Teacher of the Year at a late-April Teachers in the Limelight Celebration. With it, she’ll be entered into the statewide competition next year for Texas Teacher of the Year, with an opportunity to move on to the national competition.
Today counts for 'shining stars'
For Harless and her classroom, though, the focus is on the here and now.
This second-grade class at Lee Elementary starts the day with greetings. They each greet Harless with a hug and find two other students to exchange pleasantries with, whether through another hug, a fist bump or a high five.
Molly Harless assists Hailey Shaw (left) and Layla Mangum during Harless' second-grade class at Lee Elementary School on Wednesday. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
They say their class motto, which the students decided at the start of the school year, and a daily chant to build up the energy.
Her “shining stars” spend more time in her classroom with her than they do at home with their parents or guardians, so it’s important, she said, to get things off to a good start each day.
Sure, it’s an economics lesson for the second-graders. They learn supply and demand, profit vs. expenses and more. But it’s also a lesson on compassion.
“Each year, I choose a nonprofit, and the students make keychains to sell,” Harless said. “This is an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. It’s awesome seeing their faces when the organization comes to pick up their check.”
Her students still are selling the keychains, which are made with beads. She said the students have a goal of $700, with the donation set to be made just before the end of school. They haven’t quite reached the figure, but there’s still time.
Outside of guiding little ones, Harless is a bit of an adventurer. She’s taken several mission trips to continents far away from her home city, along with study abroad opportunities when she was in college.
She’s even bungee jumped four times in Africa, possibly the most adventurous activity anyone can perform. Oh, and she’s also taken the plunge in Corinth, Greece.
What started when she was 12 has evolved, with her enjoyment coming not from being a tourist but from experiencing life in these other cultures as much as possible, she said.
“My favorite part of it is being dropped off in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “It’s not doing typical travel things but going into someone’s home, seeing how they live, eating food with them.”
While the very pregnant Harless – her child is due in July – isn’t sure exactly when her next trip will come, she’s hoping to eventually check another dream destination off her list soon: St. Petersburg, Russia.
Guiding other teachers, too
Harless has another mission, too. She’s interested in making sure young, first-year teachers have the support to turn their career choice into the life-fulfilling opportunity they likely thought it would be when going through training.
It stems from her own love of the profession, and she has no intention of letting that joy slip away from others.
“It crushes me when teachers who once felt like I do have it slip away,” she said. “So I want to work with them, encourage them, help them understand that they’re a professional teacher. There’s nothing better than that.”
In Harless’s classroom, the students are exposed to more than just the information a book tells them they need to know. Take, for instance, their recent fundraiser for the local branch of Cancer Services Network.
By Timothy Chipp
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