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Dr. Carol Watson

Assistant Professor, Elementary Education

Difference Maker

Nominator: Douglas H. Sullivan '11

Kids are running and laughing in a field of grain. Off in the not so far off distance is a cliff that is not visible to the oft-distracted kids playing in the field. There must be a protector to keep these kids safe. Someone must warn these kids of the cliff before it's too late and someone must catch these kids before falling off the cliff and into oblivion. This moment of clarity that came to Holden Caufield was worthy of the namesake for the classical novel "A Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger.

I describe Carol Watson as the Elementary Education program's Catcher in the Rye. What Carol Watson does is she catches students who are most likely to fail, see resistance, or actively seek additional challenges and are close to falling off the edge and into oblivion. Sometimes, the students have already fallen off the edge and near that fatal impact with the ground. Carol's goal is to reach over the cliff and catch them.

What makes Carol so effective is she takes her real life experiences and imparts them upon her students. Her required textbook is one of the few textbooks worth referencing from time to time as a teacher and one that I value to this day so much so that I passed it along to a teacher candidate. The major lesson that transcends career paths, which I've ventured down many, is that affiliating yourself with the best is how a person will become the best he or she can possibly be.

Carol generalizes her knowledge from when she was a teacher and catcher in the rye for children. She noticed what young extraordinary children looked like, how they acted, how they learned, and caught those students before they fell without realizing they fell. Examples of Carol's elementary students included a high school basketball player who was situated to drop out of high school and end up incarcerated before he effectively reached the age of majority. Instead, her student graduated high school and had a chance. But the catch that I can most effectively speak to is the moment she caught me. 

It was the Spring semester of 2011. I will never forget the moment because it is the moment that changed the way I view myself. I stopped in her office to ask her some questions following class. We were talking about one of my reflections and a recurring issue that I had during professional semester. My vocabulary and word choice was so lavish that elementary students would struggle to understand my lessons. Professors reading my papers and hearing me discuss theories and lesson-planning approaches loved my verbiage. The problem was transitioning from professional register to students just beginning to develop the foundation for language. Carol said "you know you're gifted, right?"

I never heard anyone say those words, and I never received the validation that I suspected my entire life until that moment. I could have cried, because I fought with teachers. I fought with my mom and drove her and myself to tears because I was failing classes up until my second semester of college. I was toeing the cliff's edge up until that exact moment. Carol explained to me what it meant for me to be "gifted" and the impact it will have on people. Issues that have arisen previously now made sense. My questions, the way I write, and so many other attributes made sense.

That moment she caught me, but a few weeks later she set me on a path that changed my life. I attended a conference that she hosted, PANAME, where the keynote speaker was her friend, Jane. Jane met the Dali Llama and delivered a painting to him as a gift. She explained the culture of Tibet, which is a community that views each person's talents and skills as gifts to the community. The entire rest of the presentation I reflected on that, and decided that my skills and talents were best utilized going to law school, where I can work to make a difference within my community at a more widespread level than if I were teaching. I was going to law school and Carol helped me realize my talents and skills and evaluate how I can best offer them to my community.

But she hasn't done this for just me. She has done it for countless others. One particular student I can recall is a classmate of mine who had various disabilities. Carol made sure that student had what she needed to succeed in Professional Semester. That classmate did find success in Professional Semester. She also encouraged me and several other students to work on research that engaged us in education beyond just what happens in the classroom.

A genuine thank you is insufficient to convey the gratitude for Carol, just as the description of "Difference Maker" is insufficient to describe Carol Watson. Carol Watson is a Catcher in the Rye that has saved many students from falling off the cliff and transformed those students into successful difference makers themselves.

Difference Makers Sponsored by PSECU