Inspiring Students and Going Beyond
One Bluefield College professor shares her knowledge of what being a great teacher is and how students in the education department can become one.
November 29, 2011
Dr. Donna Watson is an example of a professor who often goes above and beyond for her students.
“I always loved school,” she said in a recent interview. “I love teaching. I love going to school. I love classes. I love taking classes. I love back to school. I love September. I love crayons. I love all of it, but the best part about teaching at the college level is that we become partners with students, and they become our colleagues.”
Watson, who was awarded the Wampler-Caudill Distinguished Faculty Award in 2010, graduated from BC in 1980 and went on to teach in public schools. She came back to BC in 1996 and worked as an adjunct instructor until 2005, when she received her PhD from Virginia Tech. Shortly after, Watson joined BC full-time as an instructor in the education department. Today she is the division chair and director of teacher education.
Dr. Watson with BC Student Emily Minter
Watson went to a small school in Squire, W.Va., where two grade levels were taught in one room. In the sixth grade, she was given the opportunity to teach the third and fourth grade class.
“I was like the substitute teacher under the direction of the sixth grade teacher,” Watson said. “And I just thought, ‘Wow, this is great!’”
When Watson was 18 months old her father died, so her mother raised her alone. Watson’s mother stressed the importance of education and pushed her daughter to go to college because she herself hadn’t had the chance to go. She encouraged Watson that she could do anything she wanted to.
“She was just remarkable,” said Watson.
Those who know Watson would most likely describe her as a person with a happy spirit who is full of life.
“In class, she gets ecstatic about every single lesson whether it’s a paper or something about exceptional needs for a child or student,” said Amanda Heller, a sophomore from Chesapeake, Va., “She’s just full of energy and has the ability to make any project awesome."
Like everyone, Watson has been through trials, but she remains joyful no matter what.
“It’s hard to explain, but it’s the mercy and grace of God,” said Watson, whose husband died in 2001, the same year her mother passed away.
“I always think of that verse in the Bible, ‘Great is thy faithfulness, every morning your mercies are new,’ and I believe that,” said Watson. “I can look back at tough times and see how even if it was tough, God either brought me through it or brought something better out of it.”
The education department currently has 10 students who are student teaching. At the end of each semester the students present their portfolios to a faculty and public school panel to show how much they’ve learned.
“Seeing the way they’ve blossomed into real teachers at the end is wonderful,” said Watson.
This celebration and trips to Teachers of Promise at James Madison University--including “the funny times where I drove the big 15-passenger van, and they were all trying to help me park in the parking lot”--are among memories Watson holds dear.
Having years of experience and teachers that impacted her own life, Watson knows what it takes to make a great teacher.
“It’s really hard work,” said Watson. “But it takes a caring person and a person who has a connection to people, and having the desire to impact others in a positive way.”
Watson said she often tries to steal students from other academic departments to turn them into teachers.
“If I see someone doing really well in their academics and they have a spark where they can smile, meet people, get to know people, and have a people connection,” said Watson. “Then I try to snatch them!”
Watson still sees one of her favorite teachers and when she does, she throws her arms around her neck and tells her how much she means to her.
“Sometimes when good things happen to me I write her a note and tell her: ‘I love you and I will never forget you; you made me what I am today,’” said Watson.
Every semester Watson and Phyllis Owens, assistant professor of education, host a dinner for the student teachers at Watson’s house. Last fall, when Watson taught a night class, she took a crock pot of soup for the students’ dinner.
“I just feel so bad if we are meeting from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and it’s the dinner hour,” said Watson. “So we have class and then we have a break, and go get a bowl of soup or a ham biscuit or something. I just love doing that.”
Students, including Heller, love it, too.
“She doesn’t have to provide us with a home-cooked meal,” said Heller. “But she has, and that’s definitely going beyond.”
Watson and Owens also support their students by pushing scholarship opportunities.
But it’s during the times when the rain pours that Watson comes through for her students. The Student Virginia Education Association party in October was supposed to be held outside, but because of the rain and cold weather the party was moved inside. The original games the students had planned to play couldn’t be played inside.
“I went into my closet and got all of these math games out and we played table-top corn hole,” said Watson. “Instead of using a bag of corn we used fuzzy craft balls, got gift boxes, cut holes in them and elevated them.”
Watson said they went into flexibility mode and ended up having a great time.
“We just immerse ourselves in and just love the students,” said Watson. “We often go to weddings, baby showers and, sadly, funerals, and all kinds of things.”
Watson and Owens hear from students in their first year of teaching who have put what they learned at BC into practice.
“That’s about the best thing that can happen,” said Watson. “That they remember us once they get out there and start teaching.”
At BC, students have the opportunity to connect with their professors on a personal level.
“I think there’s a greater accountability in a small school because you have the same professor for more than one class,” said Watson. “So the professor can get to know you and know what to recommend.”
Watson said she tries to help her students set up their schedules to balance athletics, theatre, and other extracurricular activities with their academics.
“Because we’re small and can get to know students we often see them form collegial groups that get together for study sessions or things like that,” said Watson. “We just care about everyone and often times if there’s an illness or tragedy of some type we just stop and have prayer for that person.”
According to her students, Watson has a heart for teaching.
“She always goes the extra mile to help her students achieve the goal of becoming the best educators Bluefield College has to offer,” said Ashley Strickland, a senior from Galax, Va.