Brookhaven native wins school district’s teacher of the year

Published 8:02 am Thursday, January 25, 2024

BROOKHAVEN — Hometown native and Brookhaven High School Class of 1986 graduate Roxanne Harper was named the Brookhaven School District’s Teacher of the Year for 2023. Harper is the English department chair at Brookhaven High School where she was named the school’s teacher of the year. 

Harper said she was told the news she had won the school district Teacher of the Year award during her planning period. Brookhaven School District Superintendent Roderick Henderson and Brookhaven High School principal Shonique McLaurin told her the news. 

“I was shocked. I was overwhelmed. I have been teaching for a long time and to get teacher of the year for the school was a great honor. I never imagined I would get it for the district,” Harper said. “We have fantastic teachers. It meant a lot coming from them. I got a framed certificate, flowers, a gift card and cupcakes.” 

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Harper went to college at Co-Lin Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi earning an education degree. Her first job out of college was teaching at Yazoo City Junior High before she moved back home to teach at Alexander Junior High for four years. She now teaches English for 10th and 12th grade at Brookhaven High School.

In 2005, she and her husband moved to Seiverville, Tennessee and she taught at Dolly Parton’s alma mater Sevier County High School. Harper said she got to meet the country legend at Dollywood when she worked there over a summer. 

Harper moved back to Brookhaven in 2012 and has taught at the high school since then. 

“It seemed like the right thing to do. It was home,” Harper said. “There was an opening and it seemed like what the Lord had in store for me.” 

She said she started teaching because she loved school. Her teachers were always glad to see her and were complimentary. Harper works to show her students the same level of care. 

Susan Chapman was Harper’s seventh grade English teacher. Chapman was her principal once Harper became a teacher as well. 

“She taught me to work hard and be responsible. I could never thank her enough,” Harper said. 

Kathy Thames was her mentor as a teacher. Thames died in 2005 after teaching for 27 years at Alexander Junior High. In her time at Alexander, Thames won Teacher of the Year in 2000-2001 and was named the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Teacher’s Commitment to Excellence Award in 1996. 

“She loved her students as if they were her own children and I try to do that with my students,” Harper said. 

Brookhaven High School’s 2023-24 school year is her 33rd year as a teacher. Harper said one reason she has stuck with teaching for so long is due to her love for the kids. Education is also a challenge because it is changing. 

Harper said she has a desire to help students be their best and for them to realize their full potential. Technology has been a big change in education since 2020 as students do work on chromebooks. The use of computers in the classroom is something she has learned with her students. 

She said students have changed in how they want information. Short, quick pieces of information are best for the current generation. Harper has to have a variety of activities and they can’t just sit and read for 45 minutes. English is still fundamentally the same with students learning to write, read and speak. 

Brookhaven had a great state testing year in 2022-23 which Harper is proud of. She said the English scores were higher than ever before which is a credit to how hard the students have worked.

“I’m here to see them be successful. I have had students in tenth grade and then in 12th grade. To see how they have matured it is wonderful,” Harper said. “I love to read. I love reading, classics are my favorite genre. I want students to love to read because it can take you anywhere. Your imagination is free to roam countries and all kinds of things that they may not get to experience in real life.”

English is not Harper’s only strong subject in school. She said she loves math and once won the Trig award in high school. Harper said she considered getting an add on of math but felt it could be a disservice to students to teach two different subjects. 

As department chair, she is responsible for meeting with all the English teachers every other week. Teachers discuss assessments, planning and curriculum and meet by grade level. 

Outside of school

Harper uses her free time to read, travel and play musical instruments. She said she loves going to the Smoky Mountains because of how relaxing and cool they are. 

Her musical talents include playing the organ and fiddle. She learned how to play the fiddle in Sevierville and has taught herself how to play Christmas music in addition to bluegrass and hymns.

Over the years, she has played the organ at Macedonia Baptist Church and Fair River Baptist Church. She started playing the organ when she was 16. 

Anyone who knows Harper knows she is a big decorator for the holidays. She decorates inside and outside her home and recently took down Christmas decorations before the ice storm. Valentines Day and Snowmen decorations are currently up for right now. 

In the summertime, she tries to read a couple of books and travel. Yard Work is also on her to do list in the summer but mostly she tries to rest her mind. 

She has no children of her own but calls all of her students her’s. 

“I love when they see me at Walmart and yell ‘Hey Mrs. Harper,’ I always thank them for speaking with me. It means a lot to me. Especially the tall guys when I have to look up at them and they still want to speak to me. I really enjoy teaching everywhere I’ve been. I have two goals for my students. One is to work hard and the other is to be kind. That should get them through everything they face in life.” 

Harper said she is grateful for the recognition she has gotten this year. A few weeks after the announcement, she was pumping gas at a gas station when a stranger told her congratulations and how he had seen her picture. 

She said a good thing about living in a small town is how everyone looks after one another. On the same day, she ran across her former student Katie Nations who told her congratulations. Nations, who works for the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, invited Harper to the chamber banquet this Thursday at Brookhaven Country Club.