The award presentation was a surprise to Watkins, who was leading her first grade class down the hallway at Pierce City Central Elementary School when Principal Teresa Abramovitz made the announcement. Watkins' students responded with a hearty round of applause for their teacher.
Watkins was presented with a special plaque and a $250 check from EFCO to be used for her classroom.
Before Watkins chose to pursue a career in education, she worked as an archaeologist after earning a degree in anthropology.
"When I was an archaeologist, I supplemented my income in the winter months by substitute teaching," said Watkins. "I realized then that I loved teaching and wanted to change careers."
After obtaining her elementary education degree from Missouri State University, Watkins accepted a position as a Title 1 reading aide at Central Elementary in Pierce City and has stayed with the school ever since. For the past six years, Watkins has taught first grade.
"I enjoy teaching first grade, because I get to help build the students' educational foundation that will make them successful individuals," said Watkins. "When I teach students to read and write, I know that they will use this knowledge as building blocks throughout their educational career."
Watkins also focuses on developing strong relationships with her students and a positive classroom environment.
"It is my goal that all students can come to school and develop a love for learning by feeling safe and respected," said Watkins.
The letter nominating Watkins for the award was submitted by Jennifer Eaton, a fellow teacher and mother of one of Watkins' first grade students.
Eaton described Watkins as the kind of educator who makes learning interesting and fun for her students.
"She encourages her students to be the best they can be," wrote Eaton. "She does a great job of monitoring their progress and informing parents of their children's strengths and areas in which they could improve. She obviously cares deeply about the success of her kids, our kids."
Eaton also wrote of Watkins' contributions to the educational environment at Pierce City.
"Jenny is a wonderful educational resource for me and other teachers as well," said Eaton. "Her students and co-workers always see the calm, smart, caring, encouraging, and dedicated leader in education that she is."
The award was not something Watkins expected to receive but she said it was a wonderful way to conclude the school year.
"Many times in teaching, you don't know the effect that you have on your students and coworkers until much later," explained Watkins. "Being acknowledged for hard work, only motivates me to work harder.
"I am very fortunate to work at such a fantastic school with professional and supportive coworkers," continued Watkins. "Teaching is a profession that can reward you on a daily basis. The reward may come from the struggling student who can finally read a sentence fluently, or from the student who always comes to school with a smile eager to learn. This award reminds me of all of those smiles I was a part of."
Outside of the classroom, Watkins enjoys an active lifestyle. She enjoys hiking, biking, yoga and travelling.
"My dog Riggs accompanies me on most of my adventures," said Watkins.
The Teacher of the Month program is a joint effort sponsored by EFCO, a Pella company, and The Monett Times. Any public or private school teacher in Monett, Purdy, Verona, Pierce City or Freistatt is eligible for the award. Nominations can be made by students, parents or fellow educators.
The program will begin again next fall.