It didn’t take Sara Watson long to make an impact at Drew Central Middle School.

As a first-year teacher fresh out of the teacher preparation program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Watson was chosen to receive the 2013 Master Educator Award, presented annually to the school’s outstanding teacher. The Master Educator Award is sponsored by a Monticello bank and presented annually to the outstanding teacher at each school in the Drew Central and Monticello School Districts. 

Watson was nominated by Drew Central Middle School Principal Joy Graham and is the first first-year teacher to win the award. The announcement came at a school assembly in front of teachers,students and administrators. “Frankly, I was shocked,” admits Watson. “When (Union Bank Vice President) Mark Tiner started reading things about the award recipient at our assembly, I realized he was talking about me.”

Watson is in familiar surroundings at Drew Central. The 30-year-old Ardmore, Oklahoma native is a 2001 graduate of Drew Central High School and is married to DCHS basketball coach C. J. Watson.

Sara enrolled at UAM in 2001, attended one semester and dropped out. “I was tired of school and wanted to start a family,” she says.

Eight years later, she went back to school, graduating from UAM in 2012 with a bachelor of arts degree in P-4 early childhood education. “I can’t say enough about UAM and how they prepare you for the classroom,” says Watson. “You get such an understanding of the ins and outs of teaching. I could go on all day. I’ve taken classes through other universities and UAM is top-notch.”

Even though Watson’s degree is in P-4 early childhood education, she has made a smooth transition to teaching 12- and 13-year-olds in the seventh grade, considered by many a challenging age group. “Everybody says that’s a tough age group,” says Watson, “but I haven’t found that.”

Watson says the secret to being a successful teacher is getting and keeping the respect of the students. “I never call a student out in class,” she explains. “If there is an issue I need to deal with, I pull them aside and talk to them. It’s important to know their interests, their background and culture to understand them and where they come from.”

As with most successful teachers, Watson’s ultimate reward is interacting with her students. “I love it when the light bulb comes on,” she says, “when they grasp what I’m trying to teach. I really love the kids.”