Spring Valley educator recognized as Durham Teacher of the Year

May. 10, 2013 @ 06:45 PM

Recently, Cynthia Watkins became a grandmother.

She showed photos of the infant to students in her kindergarten class at Spring Valley Elementary School.

One of the children asked: “Miss Watkins, are you now Mrs. Grandma?”

On Thursday night, Durham Public Schools gave Watkins another new title: Teacher of the Year for 2013.

An Oxford resident who taught in Granville County schools for 15 years, Watkins has been a Durham teacher at Spring Valley for three years.

“To me, personally, it is very affirming of what I do every day,” she said of the district’s recognition of her work.

She was among a group of finalists that included Vance Kite from City of Medicine Academy, Yvette Walker from Clement Early College High, Bryan Proffitt from Hillside High and Brenda Lovely from Shepard Middle.

Barbara Parker, principal of Spring Valley, said in a news release: “Mrs. Watkins exemplifies the qualities a principal looks for in a teacher: creativity, dedication, a love of learning, mastery of content and a true commitment to excellence. In her three years at Spring Valley, she has made a significant impact on student learning within her grade level as well as school-wide.”

During the banquet at the Washington Duke, district officials showed a video of Watkins working with students in her classroom.

“That probably pulled at my heart more than anything,” she said. “I saw myself doing my job and realized, at that moment, I teach. Look at these children. They’re learning. It’s phenomenal for me to see that.”

Watkins loves that her days aren’t predictable.

“I enjoy coming in every day, not knowing what my day’s going to be like,” she said. “I can have the best laid out plan ever. Sometimes it goes perfectly; other times it doesn’t. But it’s very spontaneous and joyful, to see things through the children’s eyes and see how they express things.”

In her approach to teaching, Watkins said, she strives to examine every individual to identify strengths and weaknesses.

“Then I come up with a plan where I can help them move forward, to be higher-ordered thinkers who problem solve and look at each other for guidance in their groups cooperatively as well as working independently,” she said.

Outside of school, she has worked with the Durham Partnership for Children on “Teacher Talks,” a monthly forum meant to help parents bridge the gap between preschool and kindergarten

“A lot of people don’t understand how independent their children need to be,” Watkins said. “Kindergarten has changed over the years. We don’t want it to be such a shock to parents, who now need to be a lot more involved.”

Two major challenges facing teachers, she said, are communication and parental involvement.

“It’s difficult, even though we have technology today to reach out more, parents are still not all embracing technology,” she said. “Sometimes we feel like it works, but then it doesn’t. For example, we try to do a lot on the website for homework and people say they have access. But kids weren’t doing homework, so we had to go back to sending copies home and posting online.”

Watkins said that she’ll put the $1,000 reward to good use for her students: Buying books for class that fit within the new Common Core standards.