Tulakes Elementary 1st-grade teacher Shadonna Watkins was named Putnam City Schools’ “Teacher of the Year” during the district’s annual celebration of teaching excellence Tuesday night.
Watkins remarks upon receiving the award were heartfelt.
“This is the direct result of when your passions and talents meet and you figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life. I truly enjoy every single day that I spend in my classroom with those kids,” Watkins said, fighting back tears. “I am just so honored to represent Putnam City as teacher of the year. I love this district and the children and teachers in it,” Watkins said.
Watkins is only in her third year of teaching, but her abilities are those of an outstanding veteran teacher, says Danyelle Speight, Tulakes Elementary School principal.
“Shadonna Watkins is an amazing teacher. She has her kids assessed and figures out what they need by the second week of school. She gives her all, she works hard, she’s wonderfully committed and she’s 100 percent about her students,” Speight says.
Watkins’ career path began following a formative experience one summer as she studied abroad in Africa. An excursion to a primary school left her amazed that children who had so little in terms of material goods were so focused on learning and appreciative of the opportunity to go to school.
“I witnessed young boys and girls who walked outside barefoot because their families couldn’t afford shoes, and I wanted to give back. When I flew back home, it was without everything I had brought with me. I gave away everything to children I passed on the street. I think this was the catalyst that made me want to help children in any way that I could,” Watkins recalls.
Watkins went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in child development from Langston University and a master’s degree in family and child studies from the University of Central Oklahoma. She began working in child development centers, serving as a master teacher in preschool classrooms and also undertaking stints as director of the Langston University Early Childhood Laboratory and the Rose State College Child Development Laboratory. She was a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Southern Early Childhood Association and the Early Childhood Association of Oklahoma.
In 2014 Watkins began teaching child development and early childhood education courses full-time at Langston University. When she found she missed working with young children, she took her sterling credentials and wealth of expertise to Tulakes as an alternatively certified teacher. While teaching full time at Tulakes she also continues to teach at least one child development or early childhood education course every semester on an adjunct basis at Langston.
“Teaching in an elementary school gives me a unique perspective. I can give students real-life situations that correspond with information in their textbooks. I can paint the picture and show them how theories reveal themselves in daily experiences in the classroom,” she says.
Teaching at Tulakes has given Watkins a chance to test out her philosophy of teaching – using data and individualized instruction to meet students’ needs.
“Students enter our doors with a wide range of abilities. Teaching them is similar to putting together a large puzzle. I use assessments to determine informational gaps and then determine which researched-based intervention will benefit them. For students to be successful, instruction must be tailored to meet their individual needs,” Watkins says.
Watkins’ passion for children and for helping those less fortunate keeps her busy outside of school as takes on projects such as helping collect coats for homeless families, helping in painting and renovation of schools and teaching young children weekly at church.
Teaching is a calling and career that feeds Watkins’ soul.
“I wake up every morning excited about the adventures that will unfold that day. I take advantage of every hour, every minute and every second that students are with me. We learn in the hallway, the cafeteria and the classroom. I pour my heart out in my classroom every day because I love teaching,” Watkins says.