Erica Harbison

November 14, 2016

Every month in our UCCI newsletter, we feature one of the extraordinary educators we have worked with at the UCCI Institutes and in the UCCI Teacher Exchange. We started this feature so that we could have a way of publicly showcasing how creative, innovative, and smart California teachers are. We archive every issue of the Teacher Spotlight here, on the UCCI website, at our Teacher Spotlight page.

This month the spotlight is on Erica Harbison, Biomedical Careers Academy Coordinator and English Teacher, Lawndale High School


In your own words: What do you do, and why?

Teaching, for me, is an entirely selfish endeavor.  I absolutely LOVE the interactions I get to have with so many different people from so many different cultures and experiences.  My classroom is my Happy Place.  I love seeing the light bulbs go off over my students’ heads when they get something, the community and culture we build together in the classroom, and even the challenges when students are struggling with a concept or I’m struggling to teach a concept.  I love how the classroom changes me, and how much I’ve grown as a person and teacher from learning from my students over the years.  The classroom is an ever evolving Gordian Knot of learning and possibilities – it is my Fountain of Youth.
What was your background prior to your current role, and how did you decide to become a teacher?
I have said for years that teaching isn’t what I do – it’s who I am.  I can’t remember a specific time when I decided to become a teacher – it just happened naturally.  My first years of teaching were with students who read below grade level, then I moved to regular and Honors English classes.  I became the English Department Chair kind of by default (no one else wanted to do the job), and remained the Department Chair for 5 years.  Being a part of the Biomedical Careers Academy also kind of fell into my lap – I was assigned to teach a 10th grade Honors English class for BCA, and the students and I made such a connection that I taught them for 11th and 12th grade English and joined the BCA Leadership Team as Student Government Advisor.  Teaching AP Literature and Composition also fell into my lap, again because no one wanted to teach the course - (my BA is in English with an emphasis on Literature, so it was easy for me to take over the class), and I believe teaching the AP Lit class prepared me to teach Advanced English and Public Health.  I never intended to become the Coordinator of BCA, but once again there was a need that I was asked to fill, so I applied for the position and was offered the job.  I also continue to be the advisor for our BCA Student Government.
You are currently teaching the UCCI Course Advanced English and Public Health (formerly titled Applied Medical English).  Prior to your teaching this course, had you taught any integrated courses?
Prior to teaching Advanced English and Public Health, I had never taught integrated curriculum; however, I did attend the California Academy of Mathematics and Science for high school, and our core classes were all integrated, so I knew how it worked.  Teaching this UCCI class also fell into my lap (clearly there is a lot of this in my career – I wonder what will fall into my lap next).  The first coordinator of BCA asked me, as English Department Chair, to see if anyone would be interested in teaching the UCCI curriculum.  I passed it around during a department meeting, and no one volunteered.  I looked the curriculum over, thought it looked interesting and fun, so I volunteered.  I am selfishly glad no one else wanted to teach the course because I absolutely LOVE it!
In executing this course, you’ve collaborated with colleagues both at your school site and in industry.  What has that collaboration looked like and what has it brought to your experience teaching the course and to your students’ learning?
I actually used this course as part of my Capstone Project for my Masters thesis.  Unit 3 is on Epidemiology, and I was able to have a friend work with my students on their research for that unit.  My friend was a researcher at LA Biolab and an adjunct professor at CSUDH, so the experience for my students of having an expert in the classroom was both nerve-wracking and legitimizing.  Further, the longer I teach this course, the more I learn about the different focuses of the units, and the better I am able to help my students navigate through the curriculum.  I also have the luxury of working closely with our Medical Assisting teacher (who was a registered nurse before becoming a teacher), and we are able to integrate our classes to overlap and support our students’ learning.  For example, some of the curriculum requirements in my class she does in hers, and my students are able to use information learned in her class as evidence in mine.
What are your top three resources (online or otherwise) for learning or teaching English, and why?
Google is number one – Google site, slides, classroom, docs – pretty much everything Google.
YouTube – I love visuals, audio, etc. to enhance learning and help explain concepts.
Turnitin– having student submit their work online helps train them for college and helps me catch any plagiarism.
We’d love to hear about any non-academic interests/experiences/hobbies you have, or perhaps related to academics but not necessarily to your current role.
In addition to teaching, I am a Commissioner with the Parks, Recreation, and Social Services Committee in my city, I play fastpitch softball, I am active in my church (my husband is our Assistant Pastor), and I hang out with my 7-year-old daughter every spare minute.  One thing she and I love to do is attend sporting events at my school where we paint our faces to match our mascot!

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“I've gained more from this institute in regards to curriculum development than any other program I've been associated with in my 12 years of teaching.” 

- Aaron Lemos, Spring 2013 UCCI Institutes