Nichole Watson, 5th Grade Teacher at Rosa Parks Elementary in Portland, Oregon
Nominated By: Tyrah McGill (parent)
She is not just teaching the students to get through a test. She is teaching them ways of life for their future. The biggest thing she is doing at the moment is having the students pick a college or university to do a research paper. Not only are they doing a research paper they are also contacting these schools to get more information. Because of this my daughter has now become her serious about going to college in her future with serious plans on how to get there. Many of her classmates are doing the same thing learning what it takes not just to succeed now but also in the future. Mrs. Watson has inspired these kids for what I can only hope will be for the rest of their lives.
Congrats, Nichole, from all of us at K103! Get to know Nichole Watson:
What inspired you to become an educator?
I went back to school late enough and pursued education because I wanted to be the kind of teacher that students could feel safe with. I wanted school to be a place where students could explore the world as a method to discover who they are. I wanted my classroom, specifically, to be a place of compassion (not tolerance). A place where we hold multiple perspectives and then go play. Before becoming an educator, I worked in real estate finance and although that was passionate work, it wasn’t my calling. I didn’t wake up every day feeling like I had fulfilled my purpose on this earth. Being in the classroom feels like a gift. It feels like the place in which I belong. It feels like home.
What do you like most about teaching?
The opportunity to participate in learning with another human being is what I love most about teaching. I like to think of myself as a caregiver, not a teacher. Teacher, in many settings, means authoritarian. In my classroom, teacher means caregiver, healer, coach, mentor, doctor, mother, father, counselor, advocate, lawyer and gardener. I get to facilitate learning. I get to watch the lightbulb go on in a person’s mind. I get to see language develop, maturation and independence evolve. I get to participate in the growth and exploration of human beings. I don’t like that… I live for it!
What has changed the most since you began your career in education?
I’ve only been a teacher, professionally, for four years. What I think I see changing is our awareness to what is not working in Public Education. We’re simply not doing it well for our most marginalized communities. My personal belief is that we cannot educate each other if we don’t, first, learn how to live WITH each other. We think the influences of the world won’t find their way into our classrooms and onto our campuses. We are wrong. The influences of the world permeate our halls and seep through the cracks and crevices of our buildings. The same biases and narratives that exist in our neighborhoods follow us wherever we go. Public education is no different. In fact, it’s the one place where children should feel visible, safe and valuable. But our discipline and special education data reflects our inability to visibly see, provide safety and find value in children who may or may not reflect the dominant culture. I argue that if we cannot find value in our neighbors, we cannot find value in our neighbor’s children.
What would you like parents to know about your job?
In my spare time, I teach Parent University courses through a local non-profit. Initially, I was afraid to tackle such a course because I have not physically birthed children of my own. However, as a caregiver, my belief is in the village model of community where each member of society has a role to play. I would like my parents to know that they are welcome on my campus and in my classroom. But more than that, I hope they know to hold me accountable to discovering the gifts and extraordinary talents of the children I serve. I hope they feel empowered to work in partnership with me and the educators who serve their children. I hope they invite me into their homes to celebrate traditions, I hope they teach me how to see their children the way they do. I hope they know how this work cannot be done without them! It takes a village. I am just one of many caregivers who comprise the village surrounding their babies. I hope they know I take great honor in pride in that. I hope they can trust me and I hope they call me out when they can’t. I hope they know that for the six hours their children are in my care, that they are safe, visible and valuable. I hope they know that I will heal, bandage, correct, love and care for their babies as if they were mine.
Share a story about your favorite teacher/educator.
When I was in fifth grade, at Boise Eliot Elementary School, I had an incredible teacher named Grace Harrington. She was a white woman. I was a little black girl. I had been experiencing some abuse and showed up at school with emotions and grief that I could not process in healthy ways. I began to act out and use every tool in my empty toolbox. Instead of marginalizing me, as many teachers do and have done. Mrs. Harrington challenged me. She saw passed my behavior and met my needs. She would affirm me in ways that I had never been affirmed by an adult that wasn’t a relative. But beyond that, she loved me. I remember for our fifth-grade promotion she hosted a BBQ at her home and all the students were invited. We had the most incredible time running through her house, looking at the pictures of her family on the walls, eating her food (that was different than mine) and playing in her yard. It was in that moment that I realized the power of love as a teacher. I didn’t know I would become one but I did know that I would choose love as a way to live out my time in this world. Counseling and therapy weren’t options for me at that time. But Mrs. Harrington provided a form of therapy that taught me how to see beyond my pain and how to embrace love. I try to provide care like that, as a teacher. I try to love with all of who I am and provide the same outlet for my students. I try, diligently, to see beyond their pain and embrace the part of them that needs healing.
Share a favorite story about your years in education.
Each year brings a new gift. Each year I am changed and molded and sculpted for the kids in my care. Some days, I am a comedian providing comical relief. Some days, I am a healer, providing restoration where there has been damage. Some days, I am a mother and father, correcting, loving and teaching life’s lessons. My favorite store changes from day to day. I would completely do all my babies a disservice to pick ONE story as my favorite. So, I’ll say this. My favorite story about my years in education is how I have learned to love and let go. A few years ago, I lost my only brother in a car accident. It was the single most difficult thing I have ever had to endure. I use this story as a way to relate with my students on a personal level. I share my grief with my students to help them understand the grief they may experience in their lives. Each year, the grief process gets better but it is my students who provide the salve that helps me to heal. Kids have a way of doing that. All my students, over the past four years, have been the salve that has helped me heal. Each of them offers a piece of their spirit that blesses and enriches me. I am a better human being because of them.