Watson humbled by District recognition

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

When Stephanie Watson contemplates being honored as the Liberty Hill ISD Secondary Teacher of the Year, she wonders why her and not someone else.

The intervention specialist at Liberty Hill Intermediate specializes in working with students with dyslexia, and to be recognized as she was meant something very special.

“What I do is so different from what they do,” Watson said of her fellow teachers. “My peers work with 100 kids a day and I work with half that a day. What I see them doing in their classrooms is remarkable and I look up to them. Just knowing they felt in some way the same way I feel about what they do every day was so humbling. Sometimes I’m still trying to figure it out.”

The award is one that could have been given to any teacher on her campus, according to Watson.

“We’re a team and we’re a family,” she said. “That’s something I made very clear in my speech when I won the award. I go to work to be with my work family and to be with my students. The support and respect that I get from my peers is unmatched. It’s a blessing to be able to work with those people and to know that my struggling kiddos that I work with every day are being taken care of, reached and being taught hard when they leave my classroom every day.”

The job is never an easy one, but an early lesson helped Watson understand just what it takes to make a difference for each student.

“At the very beginning of my career someone told me that if you can reach their heart, you can teach them anything,” she said. “I’ve tried to structure my career around that. It is hard sometimes. Just like I have hard times sometimes with my own kids, I have hard times with kids at school too. The thing about it is is you’ve got to love them. We have to make them feel secure, make them feel important and that’s what I feel is the number one goal in my classroom is to build that relationship. The rest of it comes so much easier if you break down those walls.”

Watson was once asked why she tells her students every day that she loves them, and her response was simple.

“Why wouldn’t I tell them that I love them?” she said. “They are my total focus and my total reason for being at work every day and they need to know I am there for them.”

The goal is to help students reach their potential every day, making sure no day goes by without her full effort and focus.

“The challenge for me every day is a personal challenge, wondering every day if I did enough,” Watson said. “It’s crazy, going into my 20th year, I can tell you there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wonder if I did enough for this child or that child, trying not to miss anything.”

A product of the same district she teaches in today, Watson is a 1989 Liberty Hill graduate, who left only temporarily before returning.

“This has been where my roots are,” she said. “When I graduated from here I kind of always knew I would stay here. I’m a really family-oriented person and my parents are here.”

Coming home was easy, and aside from area growth, the feel of Liberty Hill has always been the same for Watson.

“One of the coolest things is when I left – I was gone for a couple of years – and I came back and really nothing had changed aside from the growth,” she said. “It was still this super family-oriented community where everybody still knew everybody.”

Then there was the issue of becoming a peer to those who once taught her every day in the classroom.

“The coolest thing was working for people who taught me, people I respected that taught me how to engage and learn,” she said. “Some of the best teachers I ever had were people I was working under.”

It has been a rewarding twist, but one that took some getting used to.

“At first it was kind of surreal because in fourth grade my teacher was Claudeane Braun – Mrs. Braun – and I come back and I was working under Claudeane Braun and it is now Mrs. Watson as opposed to hearing ‘Stephanie get out your pencil’,” she said. “It was humbling to have them watch me grow up and see where I came from and then to be so supportive of my career and where I was headed in my life.”

Teaching is in her blood and in her family history, and she never considered anything else.

“My mom was a teacher and ever since I was little I remembered hanging out with her and wanting to grade her papers,” Watson said. “I couldn’t wait to grade papers for her. I’d go hang out with her in her classroom and I just fell in love with it. I’ve always known this is what I was going to do.”

With an emphatic “No”, Watson said she still can’t imagine doing anything but teaching.

“There’s nothing else that I want to do and there’s no other place I want to be,” she said. “This is my home, this is my teaching family and these are my kids. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing those kids I had 15 years go graduating from college. This is it.”

The rewards never stop, and Watson knows she is truly home with her students and fellow teachers in Liberty Hill.

“I was put in a great place almost 20 years ago with wonderful people and I couldn’t be more blessed than to be doing what I am doing,” she said. “I’m where I’m supposed to be. This award is just icing on the cake.”

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