The room crescendos with a cacophony of M&M’s shaking in red Solo cups. High schoolers in Mrs. Gretchen Watson’s class are all eager to start their chocolate data collection…and finish it, everyone eyeing those candy-coated morsels just before lunch. As they pour the candy out and analyze the patterns their teacher instructed them to find, the room fills with laughter and smiles. This is Mrs. Watson’s superpower: she makes math fun and accessible.
Mrs. Watson never stops searching for ways to make math class interesting. She is continually finding new pathways for the students of Bartlesville, ensuring that math is opening–not closing–doors for her students.
Tell us about your education journey. How did you become a high school math teacher?
I was a young mom. At 26, I decided I needed a career, not a job. I truly felt called to teach teenagers. And math is my jam! Upon graduation, I took a job here at Bartlesville High School. After a year of working here, I knew I didn’t want to work anywhere else. At the time, we weren’t living in Bartlesville, but we relocated and have raised our family here because of this school. I’ve been here nine years now,
and this is home.
What’s your “why”? What keeps you coming back each August?
The kids. Seeing them be successful at something they didn’t think they’d ever be successful at. So many of them think they’re bad at math. But math is a learned skill. Helping them see that is what gets me. That’s what brings me back every year. I am so passionate about being here, working with kids, and working with teachers. I love finding new math classes so that more students are served. I’ve helped start two new math classes and am working on a third. There’s a place for everyone in math.
In the midst of a teacher crisis, how do we recruit and retain highly effective educators like yourself?
Administrators make a huge difference in teachers staying. I don’t want to leave Bartlesville because I feel supported. I feel supported by my administration, my colleagues, and the counselors. We’re a team. We’re in this together. It makes all the difference.
We know that every day in the classroom might not be good, but there’s something good in every day. What’s your One Good Thing right now?
This year my one good thing is that we’re getting back to normal. We have homecoming and we have parents back in the building! Of course, we still have gaps in learning, but I feel like my teaching load is back to pre-pandemic times, and that’s amazing.
Bartlesville High School alumni photos plaster Mrs. Watson’s wall, a small glimpse into her commitment to opening doors for our students by establishing connections. Her students see: faces of former students who are valued, a teacher holding a place for hundreds of students, an adult choosing to work on behalf of teenagers. In return, they reciprocate and work for her. Their smiles and innocent teasing (“You really think math is fun, huh, Mrs. Watson?”) echo the words of victory Mrs. Watson speaks and highlight the community she has intentionally built. Teachers like her stop at nothing to ensure each child is seen: buying candy, researching fun activities, and laughing through learning–all small and big ways that our teachers show up for students every day.
Thank you, Mrs. Watson.
Thank you, Teachers of Oklahoma.
This story was written by Rebecka Peterson, 2022 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. She is writing a series of stories highlighting the good and important work of teachers across the state of Oklahoma. To read more stories like this one go to: Facebook.com/TeachersofOK