Oliverian’s science and math teacher Kevin Watkins loves working at Oliverian because of the trust that the school places in both the students and the faculty.
A native of Charlotte, NC, and a graduate of Dartmouth College, science and math teacher Kevin Watkins came to Oliverian because he wanted to teach in a setting that encouraged creative and experimental approaches to education. His varied professional and academic experiences — from leading canoe trips into the wetlands of the San Francisco Bay, to attending Emory University to get a Master’s in neuroscience — have informed his unique approach to instruction.
We sat down with Kevin to discuss why he believes in the Oliverian mission, how his background influences his beliefs about alternative education, and how his two years teaching at Oliverian have changed him:
Q: Tell us about your background and how you came to Oliverian
A: I have a degree in environmental and evolutionary biology from Dartmouth and went to Emory University with the intention of teaching at the college level. But before I finished the PhD, I realized that wasn’t what I really wanted. I wanted the intimate interactions that come with seeing kids daily and being an influence in their lives.
I finished Emory with a Master’s and started looking around at schools. I wanted an institution with small class sizes and a really interesting philosophy — something that would inspire me every day. Then I came across Oliverian. I was impressed with not only the gorgeous setting, but the school’s support structure for students.
Q: How is Oliverian different from other educational institutions that you have worked for?
A: In previous jobs, the faculty were dedicated, but with a class of 30-plus students, your ability to reach each one is diluted by the sheer number of students you work with. At Oliverian, class sizes range from two students to seven students. The relationships between faculty and students at Oliverian are highly personal. The faculty is interested in how students are doing, not just in school, but as individuals. We help them to develop personally, not just academically. Knowing that really helps get the students on board, which makes working with them really fun.
Q: How does therapy come into play in a classroom setting?
A: Counselors serve as a resource for the teacher to get a better idea of how to reach these students and understand their struggles. As teachers, we only see what’s happening in the classroom. With the counselor’s help, we learn how to tailor our instruction to the student’s individual needs, as opposed to delivering a blanket classroom policy. This helps us to gain the student’s trust.
Say a student has anxiety around school, which in the past has led to school avoidance. We find solutions like giving the student an alternative place to go to continue working, where the overwhelming social aspect of the classroom can be put aside. The counselor helps the student with strategies to manage the anxiety so that they can stay in the classroom more often.
Q: What kind of students do you think thrive at Oliverian?
A: One of the most important qualities that Oliverian students share is an openness and a willingness to engage. We are more than willing to offer a wide range of solutions to help students succeed and grow, but if a student isn’t willing to engage with the school, put in some effort, and face a little bit of discomfort, that success becomes a lot more difficult to achieve. Openness and engagement lead to progress and success.
Q: What’s your favorite part about your job?
A: There is a respect and trust that’s afforded to teachers at this school that I think is all too rare in education. We are allowed to explore new ways of reaching students. That trust and respect allows teachers to provide a wonderful experience for the students and to be as educational and engaging as we possibly can. That freedom allows me to connect with my students and actually teach. I love being passionate about what I do, and having the opportunity to pass that passion along to my students.