Featured Educator

Vanessa Jones-Harris, Language Arts Teacher

I love the kids, I love that I learn something every year.

Nearly every teacher was inspired to become a teacher by another teacher. "I was inspired by my twelfth grade high school teacher," reminisced Vanessa Ann Jones-Harris. She described this teacher, one Ms. Linhardt, as "A phenomenal woman, only four feet tall. But wherever she walked, there was quiet." According to Jones-Harris, Ms. Linhardt commanded respect and obedience from even the fiercest football players or most mischievous troublemakers.

Jones-Harris is carrying on the tradition established by her English
literature teacher. She is a language arts teacher at South Orange Middle School in South Orange, New Jersey. I spent an afternoon with the young writers she teaches. Papers written by the "Jones Jewels" were displayed on a bulletin board. Jones-Harris's enthusiasm for language was evident in the scholarship of her students' musings on 'writing as sculpting.' "Always squish it to make it even better," wrote Carolyn A. Morgan, a future fantasy author. And Sarah Langsom asserted that she would "Never accept her first piece", a writer committed to the revision process.

This teacher loves work by Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Countee Cullen. Among contemporary novels, she's a big fan of The Hand I Fan With by Tina McElroy Ansa.

She came to New Jersey with her ex-husband ("there's a book in that!" she said, laughing), and has enjoyed working at South Orange Middle School. "I love the kids, I love that I learn something every year," this teacher said.

Jones-Harris has another commitment to fulfill based on Ms. Linhardt. "She told me I had to be a writer, but I haven't written anything yet," said Jones-Harris. "I know deep down inside of me I have to do it."