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MOUNT WASHINGTON - Like the hills and hollows Bullitt East High School English teacher Deshia Harris knew so well growing up in eastern Kentucky, her path to success has had its highs and lows.
The daughter of a coal miner, Harris learned the importance of having a good education and strong work ethic at a young age.
Watching her father work from daylight until well after dark, Harris understood the meaning of perseverance and from the time she was a small girl her parents instilled in her the value of earning a degree and making something of herself.
“Most people living in my community received a government assistance check each month and that was their main concern,” she said.
“The importance of a solid education and life-long learning skills was never made known to most people in my area...Skipping out on college was never an option in my life.”
Though it’s been 19 years since Harris began her career in education, she has not lost her passion for learning and for that she was recently named Bullitt County Public Schools’ High School Teacher of the Year.
“I try to inspire my students to be life-long learners and I want them to walk away with something,” she said.
Harris challenges her students to be critical thinkers and she incorporates life-lessons into every class while keeping them engaged with interactive classroom activities.
“My students not only learn...we master content knowledge and find a meaningful application to our lives,” she said.
“I always tell them on the first day...If you leave me not knowing anything else, you will leave here a more faithful, organized, well-rounded individual.”
Her primary goal as a teacher is getting through to her students.
She is constantly searching for new ways to teach, but some aspects of her teaching style never change.
Harris strives to see that all her students feel included and she tries to create a relaxed atmosphere in her classroom.
“My personal feelings regarding teaching allow me to perform and reach out to my students every single day. I believe that as a teacher I have a very unique responsibility to not only educate but also motivate my students to be successful.”
She makes a point to show her students that she cares about their well being on a daily basis and she’s dedicated to presenting content in a fun, exciting way to encourage them to love reading and writing as much as she does.
Excellent role models first inspired her to become a teacher, but it was ultimately perseverance that led her to the classroom.
When she entered her freshman year at Morehead State University she was bound to become a teacher, but as she put it, life threw her a curve ball.
During her second semester, Harris, her family and her best friend were involved in a serious car accident.
Harris’ best friend died in the crash and everyone else was left critically injured.
Maimed from the crash, unable to walk, Harris wondered if her academic career was over.
Through scholarships and private donations she was able to return to school and she managed to find a balance between school and physical therapy where she learned to walk again.
After immersing herself in her studies and attending summer sessions, in 1993 she graduated with a 3.5 grade point average, determined to make the best of the opportunities she was given and to give back.
“After going through this experience at the young age of 18, it didn’t take me long to realize that I had a strong need to give back to others. I look back on my life and see that it could have been so easy to give up,” she said.
“I had strong teachers and mentors around me pushing me forward and encouraging me along the way. Today I strive to be that person in the lives of my students. I don’t ever want to see them give up.”
Harris’ teaching career began at Knott County Central High School in eastern Kentucky shortly after she graduated from MSU with her bachelor’s degree in English, Spanish and journalism.
Two years later she joined the faculty of Hazard High School in Hazard, Ky., where she taught Spanish and journalism until 1998.
The same year, she went to teach at Hazard High School where she remained until 2001.
From 1998 until 2008 she taught English, Spanish, journalism, oral communication and yearbook at Prestonsburg High School in eastern Kentucky.
Though Harris had never considered leaving eastern Kentucky or the classroom, she took a sabbatical from teaching and accepted a position as a middle/high school writing consultant with the Kentucky Department of Education in Frankfort in 2008.
Longing to get back in the classroom, Harris left KDE to teach at Eastern High School in Louisville.
It was there that she met her husband, Bullitt County native Tony Harris.
In 2009 she joined the faculty at North Bullitt High School and last year she got on board with Bullitt East where she teaches English II, English III and AP English III.
When Harris isn’t teaching she enjoys reading Christian/inspirational books and spending time with her family.
Harris and her husband reside in Shepherdsville with their four children: BJ, 15, Emily, 14, Tyler, 12, Kenzie, 12, and their dog Siva, named after University of Louisville basketball player, Peyton Siva.
The Harisses enjoy doing everything they can together, especially rooting for the Cards and traveling.
The BCPS Board will recognize Harris as the district’s high school teacher of the year on March 20 when she will be presented with a certificate of recognition and a check from Publishers Printing Company, which sponsors BCPS’ Teacher of the Year program.
The district’s teachers of the year will also vie for honors from Ashland Inc. and the Kentucky Department of Education this fall.