April 2017 Winner - Derrick Johnson:(Meridian High School)


Meridian Family of Stations -

Meridian Star Article

When Derrick Johnson was in high school, he wanted to study law in college, but a research paper titled "Education in Mississippi" changed his mind.

So he became a teacher.

Johnson's decision to change goals was highlighted when the Meridian High School English teacher was named April’s Golden Apple Teacher at a surprise ceremony in his classroom.

"It was such a huge surprise, but a blessing, as well," Johnson said. "It motivates me to keep going on, because sometimes in this profession you go home wondering if you did your best and are doing all you can do. It is this award that has solidified the fact that you need to keep going on and you are making a difference and I appreciate that."

In Johnson's five years in teaching, all have been spent at Meridian High School, where he teaches English Composition I and II, ACT Prep and AP English Literature and Language.

His work has earned him praise from his supervisors, including MHS Principal Victor Hubbard.

"Mr. Johnson is a great teacher who goes far and beyond to ensure that his students are receiving quality instruction on a daily basis," Hubbard said. "He builds positive relationships with his students to ensure they understand that he not only cares about their academics but also cares about them as a person."

Johnson said his decision to become a teacher was inspired by a class he took in high school.

"It just so happened that in one of my political science classes as a senior, I did a research paper that brought out some things I wanted to perhaps correct within the educational system," Johnson said. "My hopes were to be a juvenile court judge, but I decided 'why not try to reach the kids before they get to the point of being in the court system'."

One way of reaching kids is by creating a positive environment in the classroom – something Johnson says is important.

"Often kids come from an impoverished background, and sometimes they bring that attitude into the classroom," Johnson said. "But, if I can change their attitude into a positive one, then I know they will be more receptive to the curriculum, learning, and teaching.

"It’s not about just what they know, but being sure they are being taught by someone they know cares about them."

MHS student Serenity Epting said before taking Johnson’s class, she considered dropping out of school.

"When I came into his classroom he actually took the time to teach me everything I needed to know," Epting said. "He helped me to value my education, and helped me to realize that I can actually have a future if I wanted one and put my best foot forward."

MHS junior Reginald Moore has also been positively affected by Johnson.

"Mr. Johnson has been my teacher for two years," Moore said. "During that time he has taught and helped me a lot and has had a big impact on my life."

Johnson said his favorite thing about being a teacher is when he sees students apply what they have learned to real-life situations.

"It’s not about the content, but about the skills behind the content," Johnson said. "Yes, I do want students to have an appreciation for literature, but I want them to develop skills – life skills that will help them in the real world, that’s what’s wonderful. When I have students come back years later and tell me they appreciate everything I have done for them – that really puts a smile in my heart."

His advice for new teachers – focus on the students.

"I don’t teach for the income, I teach for the outcome," Johnson said. "It’s not a get rich quick kind of thing. We really want the focus to be on student achievement."

Johnson said he wants his students to remember him as a teacher who cared about their success.

"They need a cheerleader in their corner, and I am one of those people who cheer on the success of my students," Johnson said. "Believe it or not there are people out there who think these students are not the cream of the crop, nor will they be productive members of society. I want them to know they can do it."

Johnson graduated from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in political science and earned a master's degree at Mississippi State University. He recently received an education specialist degree in secondary education. Outside of the classroom, Johnson likes spending time with his family, playing miniature golf, bowling and reading.