A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

[Im]perfect Classroom: Social studies teacher Becky Watkins builds relationships key to teaching success

In an effort to better capture and celebrate the wealth of knowledge and expertise of teachers across the state, NKY’s Kevin Dailey, Kentucky’s Teacher of the Year, set out to interview and observe educators from every corner of Kentucky. The process was simple: find teachers who create classrooms where kids want to be, get to know them and bear witness to what makes them special, then celebrate that experience. It is my theory that every single school in Kentucky has teachers that I can learn from and are worth celebrating. None of these teachers are perfect, but through their imperfections they all have something special they contribute to their students and their community. I hope by sharing my experience with these teachers, our communities can have a window into our classrooms and other teachers can begin to embrace their own [im]Perfect Classrooms. This is part of an occasional series.

By Kevin Dailey
Special to NKyTribune

While there are many characteristics that make a good teacher: effective lesson design, consistent classroom management, in-depth content knowledge, those are not typically what students remember. Among the most significant qualities of a truly memorable teacher is their ability to build and maintain relationships with students and colleagues. Becky Watkins, a social studies teacher from Gallatin County High School does that better than most.

Gallatin County teacher Becky Watkins (Photo provided)

What makes Becky so special in this regard is not simply that she builds authentic relationships – all teachers do that – but it is the way in which does so. In the words of one of her students, “she is just so unique and… weird, but that makes me [and all of her students] comfortable to be ourselves.” That uniqueness, or weirdness, makes students and teachers gravitate toward her. Another student may have put it best when she said, “she has sparkle.”

Becky began her teaching career in 2011 at Gallatin County High School after completing her undergraduate degree at Eastern Kentucky University and has since earned her master’s degree from the University of the Cumberlands. Like many teachers, Becky wears many hats at Gallatin County High School. She serves as the sponsor for Gallatin County’s Beta Club, a national honor society committed to community service; sponsors the Student Council and the senior class, where she helps students express their voice to make positive change in their school; and she advances the teaching profession by mentoring new teachers and teaching the dual-credit education pathway courses for students interested in becoming teachers. Her teaching partner in the education pathway classes Katie Howell said candidly that “Becky is often at the core of planning experiences for students.”

On top of all of these responsibilities, she is known best for her active and creative approach to teaching US History, a course she has taught since arriving at Gallatin County High School in 2011. There are certain grade levels in education with added pressure and junior year is one of the biggest: college applications and future-planning, junior year assessments like KSA, ACT and on-demand writing, prom… the list could go on. Despite the rigorous curriculum and added pressure of junior year, Watkins makes sure not to lose sight of what truly matters:

Becky Watkins in the classroom (Photo provided)

Learning should be fun. Her hands-on and real-life lessons engage her students in ways that are relevant to their interests and needs. Her creative approach and willingness to take risks make her classroom feel vibrant and alive, but it also models an important lesson for her students: don’t be afraid to aim big, even if you miss from time to time.

According to her students, everyone loves Mrs. Watkins’ class because “she is always joyful and she never brings anyone down. She doesn’t make you feel bad for not knowing something or messing up. She really cares about us.”

In addition to holding the title for smallest county in Kentucky, Gallatin County is home to fiercely passionate and highly effective teachers that epitomize service, compassion, and excellence. When you ask Becky, she’ll tell you that she works with the best people that come to work every day with a smile on their face, despite any challenges or obstacles in their way.

Among her many talents as an educator, Becky has an ability to create a classroom for everyone that is truly special. It is not only a great place to learn, it’s a great place to be because no matter who you are, you are welcome. No matter how “unique and weird” you may be.

This series is designed to provide a glimpse into classrooms across Kentucky, but moreover, to celebrate our public school teachers’ contributions to their students and their communities. If you know of a teacher who creates an amazing classroom environment and brings excitement, optimism, and excellence to education in Kentucky, email to Kevin Dailey at kevin.dailey@education.ky.gov.

Kevin Dailey is a teacher at Ballyshannon Middle School in Boone County, Kentucky and is currently serving as the 2024 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.

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