Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! This is an important time to recognize all of the incredible work teachers do, particularly in this past year. In the midst of one of the biggest public health crises of the century, teachers have constantly adapted to different modes of instruction and connection with their students. They have shown grit, creativity, and dedication to their students and communities. None of the work we do at Generation Citizen would be possible without the teachers who strive to create a more inclusive, active civics education for their students. We are deeply appreciative of all of you.
As we join millions of students and families to thank the teachers in our lives, I want to honor a special teacher in my own life.
My great aunt Ruth Perry Watkins, of Rockingham, NC passed away in February, at the age of 98. She was a leading educator in North Carolina from the 1940s through the 1980s who taught civics, history and French. A beloved teacher, she began her teaching career at Rockingham Colored High School in 1944.
She taught civics through the end of World War II and the tumult of the 1960s, helped guide the students and faculty through the integration of Richmond Senior High in 1972, and into the tense Cold War. Having graduated from an HBCU, being involved in her union, on nonprofit boards, in local politics and being an active volunteer in her church strengthened her ability to help her students make sense of the moments they were in and find their agency and direction.
In the recommendation letter for her candidacy for NC Teacher of the Year (which she won in 1979), students praised her because “she relates her personal experience to the subject” and “she makes us want to learn because she shows us how it will be important for us to learn.” So many of her former students joined her memorial services, or sent a tribute to her husband, my great uncle Clyde Watkins, also a retired educator.
Thinking about her legacy is a reminder of my blessing to be born into a family of educators. But it is also a reminder that a teacher with a long career will find themselves in the classroom during difficult years; whether because of global or national crisis, local transitions or policy changes, or personal tragedy that strikes a classroom. She helped students see that civics was relevant for their lives, and was a role model for engaged community leadership.
I am grateful for the wisdom of educators that strengthens GC, especially through our Teacher Leadership Board. The TLB elevates the vital voices of teachers in the growing movement to expand access to high-quality Action Civics across the country. Apply to join next year’s TLB here.
Elizabeth Clay Roy