NPJ Teacher Feature: Patrice Harper

By Holly Penta

Patrice Harper, an itinerant gifted education teacher, travels between school in Natchitoches Parish to teach pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students. She’s been teaching for 23.5 years, all of which were in Natchitoches Parish. In 1995, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Education from Northwestern State and earned her Master’s +30 in 2007.

As a teacher of gifted enrichment, she has a deep understanding of how the gifted brain works. She says that although the gifted student is intellectually advanced, he or she may be emotionally or socially weak, so it’s a paradox.

These students are special and need time in the protected gifted setting to develop the affective domain and grow to their full potential. The curriculum is driven by the students’ interests and allows them to delve deep into materials that they really care about. The students are inquisitive and often ask why about everything. All the classwork is geared towards critical thinking, creativity, and leadership skills.

Harper has a two-point teaching philosophy. First, she believes that all children can learn with the right push and enough help and resources. If the teacher loves their students and shows them that they care, the kids will trust the teacher and work hard to please the teacher.

“I’m consistently impressed by the intelligence and wealth of knowledge that the students possess,” said Harper. “I’m often a student of my students.”

Almost every day she learns something new from them. These amazing students are her favorite thing about teaching.

The second part of her teaching philosophy is that good students are created through good parenting. Although teachers are the primary instructors in the learning process, she says that education begins at home.

“Children need to know that they’re loved, cared for, and protected before they are able to focus on their education,” said Harper. “If their basic needs are not met it doesn’t mean they can’t be successful; it simply means that their path will often be more difficult.”

Harper’s least favorite part of teaching is students who are intelligent and clearly just lacking home support. She hates that, as a teacher, she is only able to be a part-time replacement to support them.

Harper decided early on in life to become a teacher, crediting her second-grade teacher with being the initial inspiration. Many teachers throughout her own education helped keep this passion alive, particularly her eight-grade English Language Arts (ELA) teacher. She said that there were no holds barred in her teaching. She made sure that all the students learned, and most importantly, Harper said her teacher believed in her. Harper has clearly taken this to heart and does the same for her own students.

She says that her rewards for teaching come in blessings, not in a paycheck, and that money can’t buy the rewards reaped from teaching. She also encourages the people of Natchitoches Parish to reach out to the schools and ask how they can help. She is proud to be an employee of the Natchitoches Parish School District, and proud that her son was educated in these schools.

“There’s no limit to the amount of growth and success our parish can achieve if we all work together for the common goal of our children,” she said.