Arianne Watkins never dreamed she would be the one standing in front of her peers in recognition of her efforts.
But on June 10, that became reality as she was named Stafford MSD’s Teacher of the Year in her first year back following a one-year absence.
“It was definitely a shock,” she said. “They called my name and I just stood there for a second – it was this overwhelming feeling. Then I started crying.”
Watkins recently finished her fourth year teaching Algebra I to freshmen at Stafford High School. Born and raised in New Orleans, she moved to the Houston area after college and taught at Klentzman Intermediate School in Alief ISD from 2005-2008 before making the move to Stafford.
Immediately, she said, she was right at home due to demographic, socioeconomic and social similarities between Stafford and her Louisiana hometown.
“There’s this tremendous feeling of community and familiarity – everybody knows everybody,” she said. “That’s why Stafford was the place we decided upon.”
Forming that type of relationship has always been a passion for Watkins. She is an alumnus of Teach For America – where members commit to teaching for two years in a low-income community employed by local schools – and said her love of community has always driven her to go beyond just a lesson plan.
“Most teachers don’t think of this as just a job or a paycheck – it’s a work of the heart. When you look at a school and its place within a community, you look at everything and start to see the role you have is so much bigger than just teaching a math concept,” she said. “It really starts to be this work of building up your community, and you want the kids to feel pride in themselves, their area and the place they’re growing up in.”
After three years at SMSD from 2016-18, Watkins said she took a brief detour to KIPP Houston Public Schools before the allure of SMSD drew her back for the 2019-20 school year.
“When I first started teaching, I thought I was really bad at it. I was not good at all,” she said with a laugh. “When I realized I wanted to come back, I decided to read all the books and practice all the skills. I was going to be great at it.”
It appears as though the work has paid off, and Watkins is happy with where she’s put down roots.
“We want every kid to have quality instruction, especially kids at schools like (Klentzman and Stafford) – those are the kids who need it the most. When you can stay and try to build them up, that’s crucial,” she said. “And even when you (try to better yourself), you don’t think anybody’s watching. You’re just doing it because you want to be good for yourself, your kids and your community.”