Agriculture instructor Russell Watson has accumulated numerous awards during his 44-year teaching tenure.
However, the awards are not the most impressive aspect of this legendary teacher. It’s the fact he has made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of students who passed through his door.
At his retirement ceremony Tuesday night, Watson said he is looking forward to retirement and plans to keep busy.
“I have plenty to do. My wife and I are planning on going on a real vacation for once, instead of taking a bunch of high school kids with us on our trips,” Watson quipped with a big grin. “I grow irises and show irises. I’m an elder in my church and plan to do quite a bit of visitation work with seniors.
“I have eight grandchildren ranging from 14 months to 11 years old,” Watson added. “There are six girls and two boys so I’m going to spend time with them.”
After 44 years of teaching Watson says the students have been what he has liked best about his job.
“Seeing these kids taking an active part and developing leadership skills they will carry on into their lives is the best part,” Watson said. “And seeing them accomplish something they didn’t think they could. That’s been very rewarding for me.”
Watson says he has done the math, and estimates he has taught from 4,400 to 4,600 students, which he feels is quite an achievement.
“And the thing about it is my classes aren’t required classes to graduate,” Watson said. “So I feel like the kids wouldn’t have been in there if they didn’t want to be in there, and that made all the difference in the world to me.”
Watson said one of the highlights of his career has been his involvement with FFA, which he feels has helped his students grow and blossom, to use an agricultural analogy.
“When a freshman comes in, very timid, and then he breaks through that shell and begins to grow and participate, it’s wonderful,” Watson said. “He may not be able to see the potential that he has, so it’s my duty to help mold that student and point him in the direction he needs to go. That’s something that not many people get to do.”
C. Nathan Walker, senior vice president of sales and marketing at MTD Productions Inc., took several of Watson’s courses between 1984 and 1987, and said Watson was able to draw out his leadership qualities, which helped mold him into the businessman he is today.
“Mr. Watson recognized something in me I did not know I possessed. He would talk to me one-on-one and encourage me to step up and lead my peers, lead by example, and work to be better than the best,” Walker said. “Little did I know, Mr. Watson was preparing me for my career and is a big reason for my success in the business world.”
Walker said Watson’s genuine care and compassion for his students is what sets him apart from other teachers. He would spend countless hours developing relationships with students and their families while challenging students to their full potential.
Another previous student of Watson’s, Keith Bouldin, president of Bouldin and Lawson LLC, says Watson encouraged him to run for office in FFA, and he was elected sentinel of their local chapter. He later became president and led the local chapter his senior year. Now president of three nursery equipment companies, Bouldin says the skills he learned in Watson’s class prepared him for his future.
“I feel I would not be where I am today in business if I had not met Mr. Watson and had him in school for three years,” said Bouldin, who took Watson’s courses between 1975 and 1977. “His guidance and wisdom have helped me make good decisions in life and I sincerely appreciate him and his dedication to his students.”
In the mid-’70s, Watson assisted in the development of new framework and curriculum for Tennessee. He went on to assist in the development of national-level framework and wrote curriculum for Decisions & Dollars and Aquaculture programs. He served as a reviewer for several textbooks which are now available for the agriculture education community. He also presented at national conferences on behalf of educational companies, such as CEV Multimedia.
Watson has received several impressive awards, including NAAE Outstanding Service Citation in 2008. As a chapter advisor, the Warren County FFA chapter has received over 40 National Gold Emblems. He also worked with over 280 state FFA degrees recipients, 100 American degrees recipients, and seven national star finalists. Warren County currently holds the national record for the most star finalists – two in the Star Farmer category, three in the Star in Agribusiness category, one in the Star in Agricultural Placement category, and one in the Star in Agriscience category.
Although extremely accomplished, Watson says his greatest achievement is watching his students go further than they thought they could. He treats his students as though they are his sons and daughters, and takes an interest in each student from the first day of class, to graduation and beyond high school.
Watson attended the Warren County annual FFA Banquet for the last time as a FFA advisor on Tuesday night. To honor and support Watson, 42 of his 44 past FFA presidents attended the banquet, which serves as a true testament to their love and admiration for their unforgettable role model.
“They broke the mold with this man,” Walker said. “When it comes to young people and especially his students, Mr. Watson possesses the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, and the heart of Christ.”