School: Daves Creek Elementary
Years teaching: 1
Subject: Second and third grade special education
Haley Harbin comes from a family of educators all from Forsyth County Schools.
Her grandfather was a teacher and administrator in the county while her mom, aunt and uncle all grew up within the school system. Growing up around an educator, they each decided to go into teaching themselves and found jobs at different schools in the county.
Her mom taught special education at Liberty Middle School for many years before moving to Hendricks Middle School this past school year. Harbin went to Liberty herself for middle school, remembering that all of the teachers felt like family.
That was when, in 6th grade, she started helping out in the special education classrooms.
“I was born into teaching, I guess you could say,” Harbin said. “I didn’t ever really consider anything else.”
It was no surprise, then, that Harbin attended the University of North Georgia after school and earned a dual bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education and Special Education.
Just like her mom, aunt and uncle, she followed in the footsteps of her family, finding her first job teaching 2nd- and 3rd-grade special education students at Daves Creek Elementary School.
These connections and dedication to education are just some of the many reasons the community voted Harbin as the Forsyth County News’ Teacher of the Month for October. The FCN spoke with her about her advice for first-year teachers, her experience in middle school as a “staff child” and where her inspiration to teach special education really came from.
How have you been liking teaching at Daves Creek so far?
“I love it! We have an amazing administration. They’re so hands on. They’ve been so much help to us and always willing to talk whenever we need. And the staff here is just amazing. They’ve been very welcoming.”
Do you have any advice for new teachers about to start their career in the pandemic?
“I definitely started off right in the middle of the pandemic right when people were coming back to school. They had just been in that whole setting where they quickly switched to virtual, so my first year was the first year back to school in COVID.
It was definitely interesting, and I haven’t even experienced a true school year because we still don’t have parents coming in and we still don’t have school events. I don’t even know really what a true school year looks like outside of COVID.
But if I could have any advice inside or outside of COVID, [it would be] just to not be scared to reach out for help. If you have questions, find someone to ask. If you need advice, find someone. Don’t try to support yourself.
A lot of the time, I was scared to reach out for help because I didn’t want to be known as the first-year teacher, but trying to support yourself isn’t possible. It’s okay to be a first-year. I’m in my second year of school and still have so many questions. There are teachers here who have been teaching for a long time and still have so many questions.
It’s okay to not know, and it’s okay to reach out for help because there are so many people in your school willing to help you. Everyone in your school has been a first-year. Everyone has been there.”
You said your mom teaches special education. Is that where your inspiration to teach special education came from?
“In my middle school, we had a few special education classrooms where we had the opportunity to, instead of going to [Physical Education] or Art, we could sign up to be a peer in their classroom and help them with their day-to-day things.
As soon as I was old enough to be a peer in those classes, I wanted to, and I did it as much as I possibly could. Those students who were in that class I’m still friends with to this day. I am 24, and I met them when I was in sixth grade.
We went to high school together, we graduated together, we had prom together. We still see them all the time. That was kind of where it all started. My family is highly involved in special education, but really, the ones who inspired me to take a position like this were my friends from that classroom.
They have really truly given me a reason to come into a special education classroom and try to make a difference.”
What was it like going to school with your mom teaching there?
“It was definitely fun! I pushed the limits a little bit being a staff child. She’ll still say, if anyone asks here, that I pushed the limits way more than a little bit.
But it was fun because I knew the teachers on more of a personal level than a lot of people did, and I still see a lot of those teachers today. Actually, one of the teachers at Liberty when I was there is now my facilitator at my school.
It was really nice because I always had people on my side at my school. They were more than teachers to me. They were my mom’s friends and people I knew before I came to middle school.”
What does teaching mean to you?
“In special education, our saying is really making a difference. And I think that’s what teaching means to me, especially in a class like mine where we have 5 kids as opposed to 25 and a lot of times, it’s very easy to seem different.
I’m here for the academics and I’m here to teach these kids, but I’m more here to be a part in their lives and make sure they know that they’re loved and to form those personal bonds with them because I want them to be comfortable.
I think back on some of my teachers and think, ‘Wow, they were some really good teachers,’ and I remember them always. I want to be one of those teachers that kids look back and think, ‘I really loved being in her class,’ or ‘Ms. Harbin really, really loved me.’”