A hallmark of The College of Wooster’s education program is that it puts undergraduate students in field placements in area schools early in their college education. For students who go on to pursue careers in education, like Brian Watkins ’00, now in his seventh year as principal of Claymont Middle School in Uhrichsville, Ohio, this early experience in the classroom was invaluable.
“I had great classroom observations in great school districts in the Wooster area,” said Watkins. “And, the education program at Wooster was very rigorous and provided me with many opportunities to watch good classroom teachers work.”
Still today, Watkins marvels at the fact that his professors remember him 20 years after graduating. “Professors at Wooster truly care and continue to follow their students after graduating,” he said. As a student at Wooster, Watkins pursued his teaching licensure while also majoring in history, where he pursued research topics such as work stoppages in the NBA and the local history of the county as part of junior and senior Independent Study, respectively.
“I think the most important take away for me at Wooster was the mindset that you can accomplish a big task,” added Watkins. “As a freshman and sophomore seeing upperclassmen work on their I.S. projects, it seemed so daunting. However, when the time comes for you to do it and you put your mind to it and come up with a plan to complete such a large project, it is very rewarding.”
In addition to the experience he got in classroom placements during his time at Wooster, the I.S. projects gave Watkins important skills to carry into his career. “The I.S. projects taught me a lot about time management and work ethic, which are both important characteristics to have in the field of education,” he said.
Watkins rose to his principalship after serving as 7th grade special education teacher, 5th grade science, reading, and math teacher, and athletic director for the Claymont district. These positions gave him multiple perspectives to draw from when now making decisions as a principal. “When getting my first job as a principal a colleague told me, ‘when you get an office, don’t forget what it was like to have a classroom.’ That advice will stay with me. I refer to that often and I use that advice when making decisions for my building,” Watkins said.
This school year in particular has been one filled with difficult and important decisions for a principal to make. As the coronavirus pandemic caused school closures across the country, principals, teachers, and administrators had to make decisions quickly about how best to continue to teach and guide students without meeting in person. Watkins said at first it was a challenge for him, particularly as someone who excels at and relies on strong communication. “Communicating with the students, families, and teachers was not the same during this time,” Watkins said. “However, I tried to stay connected with all the stakeholders as much as I could and making myself available when someone needed me. It was a time of learning and reflecting for all of us in education.”
Whether in-person or virtually, however, Watkins finds joy in his ability to guide his middle school students. “Students at this age are looking for guidance and help to shape and mold their paths,” Watkins remarked. Through his experience both in Wooster area classrooms and at the College, Watkins has been prepared to give just that to the students at Claymont.