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"Growing Our Own Teachers"
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
SEPTEMBER 21, 2021 – A new class at Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy established to put students on the path to becoming a teacher does far more than that.
It also helps them develop as individuals.
Kim Watkins is the Teacher Leader for the Educators Rising Academy, which was established this school year. She also teaches visual arts at Winston-Salem Prep.
Watkins knows that not all of the juniors and seniors taking the class will go on to become a teacher. So she takes an approach designed to serve them no matter what career path they choose.
A positive attitude.
Those are just a few of the topics the 18 juniors and seniors explore as they participate in Educators Rising, a national program supported by such organizations at the National Education Association and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Winston-Salem Prep is the first Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school to offer the program.
One hope with the Educators Rising program is that students who do become teachers will return to their high school as a teacher one day. Principal Gabriel considers this a way to “grow our own teachers.” Acknowledging the challenges with finding strong, committed teachers, Dr. Gabriel said “Growing our own educators provides a unique experience to our future students. Who better to serve the students in the Winston-Salem Prep community than the students who walked the same walk as the students they serve?”
Watkins is a National Board Certified teacher. She also has a master’s degree and is working on earning her Principal Certification at Appalachian State University. According to Dr. Gabriel, “Ms. Watkins is so passionate about education, making her a great fit to lead this new magnet academy and inspire other students.”
From her own experiences, Watkins knows that goals can change and she talks to students about her own life as a way of helping them understand that process.
Watkins is an artist, and, when she headed off to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she envisioned making her living as an artist. As she came to understand the challenges of doing that, she said to herself, “I need a back-up plan.”
So she earned her certification as a teacher and began teaching.
“I have shared that experience with them,” Watkins said. “There going to be things that change.”
She also talks to them about how rewarding she has found the profession and about how she has grown in other ways over the years.
“I was very shy and it was hard for me to work with people,” she said.
As other teachers have discovered, it’s sometimes hard to find the time and energy for your own creative projects when you’re teaching. Watkins still works on her art when she can. One drawing she created shows her daughter, Charlie, as an infant. These days, Charlie is in first grade at Southwest Elementary.
Watkins embarked on her teaching career in Lexington City Schools. After also teaching for Iredell-Statesville Schools, Watkins came to Winston-Salem Prep four years ago as a visual arts teacher.
She soon discovered that Winston-Salem Prep truly is a family. She also came to understand that it’s a school that is sometimes underappreciated by others.
She knows that Dr. Keisha Gabriel, the principal, and others at the school are working not only to serve the students as best they can but also help people appreciate the school more fully, and Watkins hopes that Educators Rising will be one program that serves that goal.
“I want the community to understand the good things we are doing at Prep,” Watkins said. “They have to be acknowledged and celebrated.”
“I am very passionate about this school. I love the kids. I want them to know I am here for them.”
One of the bonuses of having the class at Winston-Salem Prep is that it has both a high school and a middle school program so, as students in Educators Rising began working with other teachers and with students in the classroom, they can work with both middle and high school students.
They will also observe coaches working with students. Working with other teachers and coaches will give them the opportunity to see that each person has a distinct teaching style.
“There are so many different methods,” Watkins said.
Observing others will help students get a sense of what style would work best for them.
With it being the first year of the program, the class is evolving as Watkins discovers what works best for students – and for herself. Leading Educators Rising has already come to mean a lot to Watkins. One thing she appreciates is the connections she is making with students.
“I love the conversations I can have with students,” she said. “I am getting to know them on a different level.”
“They are very honest. This is a safe space to express themselves.”
“I am having a great time. I love it.”
Watkins has also appreciated another new experience – becoming a Teacher Leader with the Teacher Academy this year. That has given her to opportunity to get to know and work with other teachers in the school system.
Watkins hopes that, whatever career path her students choose, they take away a lot from Educators Rising.
“You’re hoping what you’re teaching them is going to follow them to the next level – it’s about equity and diversity and mindset.”
When it comes to mindset, it’s important to be mentally flexible.
One of the books that students in the class have explored is The Growth Mindset: A Teacher’s Guide to Promoting Success.
Here are some of the responses Watkins received when she invited students to share their perspectives of the class so far:
Tracie Jones (junior): “This is a helpful class and it’s teaching me how to have a growth mindset.”
Ronald Sanders (senior): “Ms. Watkins is a great teacher, and this is a great class. I’m excited to learn everything this class has to offer.”
Briana Shuff (senior): “This class is giving us leadership skills so we will be able to take ownership for our future and our goals.”
Kyhia Green (senior): “Life is hard. I’m still trying to navigate this world. Ms. Watkins teaches us a variety of ways to express yourself.”
Johnny Gaither (senior): “I feel like this class is good for 12th graders because it’s preparing us for college and having a growth mindset, staying motivated, and being successful through effort.”
To learn more about Educators Rising on the national level, go to Rising.
336.727.2696 Ext. 70114