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Watkins: Every day I come here, I accomplish something.
Gainesville Middle School teacher Dawn Watkins watches a robotics class project with student Michelle Razo. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

Dawn Watkins | Gainesville Middle

Dawn Watkins is a different teacher. She has a different class.

She’s effective and the students can’t contain themselves — just step foot into the robotics classroom.

“If that child becomes a mechanical engineer then that will affect generations,” she said.

Watkins has been teaching for 27 years and teaches robotics and gifted science.

Why did you choose teaching?
“I always knew that I was going to teach something, and (when) I started out I thought I wanted to teach high school biology. So I went the biology direction. And once I got (to the middle school) — this is the place that I really enjoy the best. The kids are so much fun, and they’re still highly motivated and you can spark that interest with them. And, I don’t know, you can make such a difference here. You can have a child come into middle school science saying, ‘I hate science,’ and leaving saying, ‘I want to be a mechanical engineer or a computer scientist.’”

“I actually really love science. I never do the same thing from one year to the next because I’m on the Internet finding a different way to teach it ... I just thoroughly enjoy science myself and it’s just fun to pass it on.”

Most memorable teaching moment
Watkins recently started a robotics program with her students. She said she had no intention of actually competing in the program because of the cost. “I got the kids together ... and started working with them and was amazed at how they just jumped on the challenge and started accomplishing things that I didn’t think we could do. I just thought — too early. And this year not only did they do it, they qualified at every level all the way to state, and they took the first-place mechanical engineering team as a first-year team. ... We’ve got one in here who wants to go to MIT for mechanical engineering because of this exposure. So when you can do that, that’s like — I get to sit back and say, ‘Wow. I just feel like every day I come here, I accomplish something. There are so many other jobs I could do where I wouldn’t make a difference. This will make a difference. This will
be huge’”

Advice for other teachers
“Every day is a new day with the kids. ... (Don’t) dwell on what came before. Give everybody the chance that tomorrow will be the day that it works. And with science, hands-on, hands-on, hands-on. ... What you find out yourself you actually learn versus what someone tells you. ... They will amaze you at what they can figure out.”