Prior to becoming a middle school science teacher, Eclectic Middle School science teacher Jay Harrell considered two additional careers — police officer or geologist.
He eventually decided to pursue a degree in education from the University of Alabama where his father taught physics. His mother was a sixth-grade teacher and his sister taught special education.
“Education runs in the family,” he said.
He even kept the tradition going when he married Amy Harrell, who serves at the librarian at EMS.
After teaching for 14 combined years in Russell County and Opelika, the Harrell family moved to Elmore County 12 years ago to be closer to his wife’s parents.
“I have been to five different schools in my career in three different counties,” he said. “Eclectic Middle School is the best school I have ever taught at.”
Harrell said the decision his wife made of taking the librarian job at EMS and his decision to also come back to EMS has made a positive impact in the Harrell family.
“She loves her job; I love my job; and our two kids love it here,” he said. “It is just the sense of community and family.”
He said his interests outside the classroom revolve around science.
“My mom taught science and my dad was a physicist, so science naturally came to me,” he said. “Any news article that comes up I’m all into it. Almost daily, I’m sharing with the students the news I come across.”
He said he teaches because he wants to get students interested in science.
“Working with the kids and presenting something to them or helping them dive into something that is useful and applicable in today’s word is what I like — presenting something that they can apply and use,” Harrell said. “I love to see their smiles when they discover something about space and they get interested. To give them that excitement is the No. 1 joy I have.”
Harrell said he and the students look at the NASA website and see where the space station is located and map out where it is headed.
“Then, we go home and look 20 degrees north and sure enough there’s the space station flying overhead,” he said. “We do activities like that, and we play different games on the computer, just little things like that.”
Harrell said the way teachers deliver lessons to students has evolved from the time when he was a student.
“It’s changed in the way that the teacher is not the focus,” he said. “It’s more like, ‘Let’s introduce this; let’s talk about it; now you (the students) explore.’ You take it and see what you can do with it.”
He said the benefit of teaching in this manner has to do with when students become employed. “They are going to have a boss one day and that boss will expect these kids to learn how to apply (at a job) what they learned,” he said. “So, they are doing more applying than we did back when we were kids.”
He recalls seeing Halley’s comet when he was in high school and he makes sure to share that experience with his students.
“I was probably in high school when that came out,” he said. “My father took the family to a field. We sat in the back of his pick-up truck and watched it. I tell my class I’ll probably be dead, but please remember me when you look in the sky and see it that your sixth-grade science teacher talked about it and saw it.”