As Shelterwood’s Social Studies teacher, Dr. Dan Harris loves creating lessons where true connection and learning come together.
“I’m looking for those few moments when you get to do some real teaching, when all of a sudden they are interested in something, and you get to go beyond,” Dan says. “I love telling stories. Some people call it getting off on tangents, but that’s where real learning takes place!”
His Path to Shelterwood
Dan has more than 25 years of ministry and education experience. He’s been a high school teacher and a ministry coordinator for the Global Ministry Center at his alma mater Nazarene Theological Seminary. As he was trying to get back into full-time secondary education, he heard about an open position at Shelterwood. He was familiar with Shelterwood—it is in his neighborhood, and he knew people who worked here—and was excited to see if it was a good fit, professionally.
“I like the fact that it is Christian program,” Dan says. “I don’t have to hide that; it’s part of who I am. I like to have the opportunity to pray over my classes each day as we start.”
As the only social studies teacher at Shelterwood, Dan teaches World History, U.S. history, Civil War history, Geography and government classes. Through his classes, he sees most of Shelterwood’s students at least three times a week, if not every day. In contrast to his public school work, Shelterwood’s classes are smaller and all of the students have individual needs that require more pedagogical effort.
“I try to learn as much as I can from the therapist about what they are dealing with,” Dan shares. “Working in ministry, I’ve always had that idea that we work with individuals as individuals. Beyond the subject matter, I’m trying to get them to become more normalized as students.”
Dan says he may not share the same life experiences as many of his students, but he has had close relationships with those facing the same kinds of challenges. Supporting people who are struggling with mental health, substance abuse or family tensions has been a constant theme in his life.
“I grew up in a very solid home, but I did have a lot of friends who had similar issues. I took care of everybody,” Dan remembers. “I’ve kind of always filled that role. In that sense, I can see a kid and relate a friend or a student I’ve had who might be similar, and that helps.”
The best part of teaching
Dan treasures the times when his classes spark genuine interest in his students. He says you can’t always predict what will ignite a meaningful discussion or connect with a teen’s curiosity. One recent class on the philosophies of Anselm and Aquinas, two Christian thinkers from the Middle Ages, hit a nerve with some of his students.
“We were talking about their rational arguments for God,” Dan explains.”A lot of students…want to be defiant toward the Christian perspective. But this lesson shows them it’s okay to talk about that, to have a discussion. Anselm and Aquinas may seem like a boring topic, but…they really engaged. The discussion was both educational and spiritual. It was a really good day and something they will remember.”
Dan continues, “You’re always looking for that opportunity, and you never know how it’s going to come out. Those are the times when I can feel I’m actually accomplishing something with my students.”
What He Wants His Students to Know
Beyond teaching the basics of history, geology and government, Dan hopes he has created a nonjudgmental environment for his students. He wants them to know he values them as individuals, and he tries to model a different way of being that could influence them years down the road.
Dan wants his students to see beyond high school and know they have a lot of life ahead of them. He is adamant that whatever mistakes they might have made up to this point, or whatever challenges they’ve faced from outside forces—none of that determines their future.
“They don’t have to let the past define who they are,” Dan says. “There’s a bigger world out there, and they have the opportunity to make something of themselves.”
Outside the classroom
When Dan isn’t teaching at Shelterwood, he’s still teaching;He is an online instructor for Indiana Wesleyan University and Chamberlain University, in addition to his Shelterwood duties. “I love the fact I can reach out to different students across the globe,” Dan says.
Dan spends as much time as possible with his family. He has four children; the youngest is a senior in high school. Her activities keep him busy, but he still manages to fit in a run every day. “I’m getting slower and slower,” Dan jokes, “but I’m still out there!”