Rhodes Alumna Katherine Watkins ’07 Wins $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Teacher who has just learned she is winner of a big award has her hand placed over her heart in shock; she is surrounded by applauding students
Students and colleagues rise to their feet to applaud English teacher Katherine Watkins, winner of a 2017-18 Milken Educator Award. Photo is courtesy of Milken Family Foundation.

Katherine Watkins, a 2007 Rhodes alumna and English teacher at Millington Central High (TN) made history Nov. 16 as she became the first from Millington Municipal Schools to receive a Milken Educator Award. Tennessee Commissioner of Education Dr. Candice McQueen joined Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken to surprise Watkins with the national honor in front of a gymnasium filled with her peers, students, dignitaries, and media.

Watkins is among up to 45 honorees who will receive the award, hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching.” She can use the award’s $25,000 cash prize however she chooses. Past recipients have financed dream field trips, established scholarships, and even funded the adoption of children.

“Katherine Watkins knows the value of preparing young people for success in an interconnected world,” said Milken. “Literature, and the history it tells, ties us to the generations before us and provides us with the knowledge and tools that inform our own roles in the world around us. Katherine’s lessons are beyond educational: They are palpable. I congratulate her on this award and am confident that she will impact the profession for decades to come.”

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to teaching and serving as the English department chair at Millington Central High, Watkins is actively involved on campus, sharing her creative skills as yearbook advisor and her academic knowledge as the National Honor Society advisor and co-coach of the Knowledge Bowl. As a member of the school leadership team, she also helps write pacing guides for the school’s curriculum.

A believer in a well-rounded education, Watkins spends summers teaching at a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) summer camp for middle school students and is a trained jazz pianist and published poet. She even chronicles her travels abroad and photographs historic places to share with students about locales and legends referenced in many of their class reading assignments.

Watkins’ honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals, and specialists dedicated to strengthening education. She also will have the opportunity to attend a forum in Washington, D.C., March 20-23, 2018.

Watkins earned a Bachelor of Arts in English, cum laude, from Rhodes College in 2007, and a Master of Science in literature and modernity from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2009.