Teacher enjoys helping students uncover voices

Published 9:47 am Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Donna Carpenter has been a staple at Vicksburg High School for 30 years.

Carpenter teaches senior English at the school, which consists of British literature, accelerated British literature, dual credit composition I and advance placement world literature and composition.

She has about 65 students this semester.

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Carpenter has been teaching for 36 years. She started as a history teacher and a librarian, but in her second year as a teacher, she was asked to switch to English.

“I’ve been teaching English ever since,” she said, adding she has taught senior English for three years. “I did American literature before that.”

Being able to teach both history and English, which she said go hand in hand through literature, has been enjoyable to her, and she appreciates how the two subjects complement each other.

Carpenter has found her work with students rewarding, especially when she sees them come to appreciate the subject matter the class is learning, whether its reading, writing or increasing their vocabulary, when they never thought they would.

“So many of them come in and they don’t think they have anything to say and yet they do. They just don’t know how to get it out on paper. So to see the growth I think it the best thing,” she said.

Her teaching career started at Porters Chapel Academy, and she said she also taught summer school at Warren Central High School. She went through National Board Certification in 2001, and has recertified since then.

“It just makes you take time to focus on what you do and why you do it and ty to help you learn how to do it most effectively,” Carpenter said.

While she has had thoughts of retiring before, she keeps coming back year after year. One reason for her commitment is the encouraging words she has gotten from past students.

“There are some days within the year I think, ‘Ok, this is it,’ but then invariably someone from the past will come by, student from last year and a couple years before and even student from Porters Chapel will come back by and say, ‘I remember doing this and you really don’t know how much that has helped,’ I think that keeps any teacher going really,” Carpenter said. “We don’t always see the impact we make.”

Another facet of the job that keeps her motivated to stick around is her work with students outside of the classroom. Carpenter is the school’s assistant volleyball coach, and she keeps the scorebook at home basketball games. At one point she coached the ninth grade girls’ basketball team, and at Porters Chapel she worked with the cheerleaders and slow-pitch softball team.

“I’ve enjoyed that because you get to see another side of the kids, and they see you in a different light too,” she said. “You get to know them on a different level.”

Carpenter, a Louisiana native, received her master’s degree in education with an emphasis in English and a minor in educational media from the University of Louisiana Monroe. Her bachelor’s degree is in social studies education with a minor in library science from Louisiana Tech.

Initially Carpenter majored in medical technology, a field she enjoyed, but when she realized how isolated the work would be, she decided to change her career path.

“When it really hit that I would be in a lab all day, I thought I really needed the human contact because I enjoyed that more,” she said.

Two of her dormmates were taking a world history class to cover a humanities elective requirement, and she joined them in the class to round out their study group.

“They hated the class, and I absolutely loved it,” Carpenter said. “So I went on to major in social studies.”

She moved to Vicksburg when her husband was offered a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He has since retired and owns a business. They have two grown sons in Madison.