Mr. Vincent Watson, an East Lansing MacDonald Middle School teacher and coach for football and track and field, is retiring after 47 years of service, marking the end of an extraordinary career of a much-loved and respected mentor who influenced thousands of ELPS students’ lives for the better.
True Role Model to Students
Mr. Watson told ELi that while some years are more challenging than others, he never had a down year while teaching. He woke up every morning looking forward to his job. And, over the past 47 years, students have looked forward to seeing Mr. Watson every day.
His philosophy of being a role model to his students was simple. He acted as himself.
Mr. Watson said he understood that kids are perceptive and would see through a façade. If students saw he was real, they would trust him. After that, everything else would become easy.
Mr. Watson went above and beyond to build rapport with his students. He regularly arrived at 6 a.m. and left his door open to students so long as they were willing to listen to the jazz music he played. At first, one or two students took him up on the offer. Eventually, the gathering grew to about 20 students.
Karry Smith, a father of three sons in ELPS, recalled how Mr. Watson mentored his two older sons when they transferred in from another school district. When his sons struggled, Mr. Watson let Smith know that the boys were welcome in his classroom anytime to study. Smith called Mr. Watson “a tremendous help” during a time of transition for his family.
Under his caring eye, some kids finished homework while others read. Most importantly, students could talk to Mr. Watson, including about their problems.
Sam Hosey, the Chairman of ELi’s Board of Directors, said that his sons were sad to hear of Mr. Watson’s retirement since they also went in to school early to sit in Mr. Watson’s classroom and were coached by him in football.
Mr. Watson took this mentorship seriously, telling ELi that his biggest challenge as a teacher was getting through to kids who did not believe in themselves or who saw themselves as outsiders. He wanted to motivate these students and help them feel a sense of belonging.
Mr. Watson was one of only eight black teachers in all of the ELPS district, and for many years, he was the only black man working in MacDonald Middle School. Sam Hosey told ELi that Mr. Watson served as a mentor to all students, but children of color particularly looked up to him.
Lynette Long, a mother of two African-American ELHS students, seconded this opinion.
She told ELi that her daughter often opted to eat in Mr. Watson’s classroom, saying she felt “safe in his room.” Long continued that her daughter “shared this was often her favorite part of the day because these small things were indications of teachers caring.”
Mr. Watson’s warmth and inclusivity extended even to those who never had him as a teacher. Efe Scott-Emuakpor attended ELPS and now coaches football with Mr. Watson. He never had Mr. Watson as a teacher, but he remembers how students always gravitated toward Mr. Watson, who gave off a certain positive energy.
Scott-Emuakpor said that Mr. Watson became a legend as he taught siblings, and later, even the children of his former students.
As a coach, Scott-Emuakpor said, Mr. Watson has had a true gift for teaching, even on the field. “He knows how to get things across, help kids grow.”
He has been a firm, strong, and steady mentor.
Randy Kinder – one of the most famous alums from ELHS, having played football for Notre Dame and one year in the NFL – also never had Mr. Watson as a teacher, but always noted how everyone respected Mr. Watson with his calm and steady voice.
Kinder attended school with Mr. Watson’s children and saw how much they adored his father. Mr. Watson was a father figure to many, he said, making everyone feel at ease.
Will Be Missed by Colleagues in Retirement
ELPS colleagues and district administrators, Mr. Watson said, have made his job wonderful. The feeling is reciprocated.
Evan Martin, who began working at MacDonald two years ago, said Mr. Watson was a mentor to him, demonstrating that teaching is also “being a role model and friendly face” to students. Martin said that Mr. Watson embodied the saying, “Long after they forget what you’ve taught them, they’ll still remember how you treated them.”
MacDonald’s administrator Amy Martin has worked with Mr. Watson for five years, telling ELi that “to say it was an honor is an understatement. His passion for kids and commitment to their success was beyond measure.”
Fellow teacher Dean Hanton called Mr. Watson “an icon…a no-nonsense type of guy who always seemed to enjoy what he was involved in.”
The retirement is bittersweet since Mr. Watson was not certain that he was retiring when he taught in person for the last time in March. He was unaware at the time that he was teaching inside MacDonald for the last time.
Mr. Watson came to teach in the school district in the 1970s after graduating from Grambling State University in Louisiana. As he was preparing to graduate, the director of his program encouraged him to contact a recruiter from East Lansing.
The teachers he had growing up in Louisiana influenced his decision to become one himself. His love of students and the opportunity to positively influence them kept him going for these 47 years.
He chose to come to East Lansing with his newlywed wife to see a new part of the country. They missed the warmer southern weather, but the change in climate informed Mr. Watson’s most memorable moment about starting his new job.
He told ELi that he woke up one morning to see some snow on the ground. He went back to bed, but was soon woken up by a phone call from the principal telling him to get to work immediately. Hailing from Louisiana, Mr. Watson thought school was closed for any instance of snow. He soon learned that was not the case!
Everyone ELi spoke with about this local hero wished Mr. Watson a happy retirement while emphasizing how much he will be missed. Those who knew Mr. Watson as a coach for football and track and field hope he still may help out from time to time.
In his retirement, Mr. Watson hopes to travel with his wife. He explained that as a teacher and coach, he has had limited free time. Now, he would like to see Alaska and the West Coast.