Humans of NAU: Annie Watson

Annie Watson and her husband and two boys at an NAU football game

Annie Watson has been at the front of the classroom for years, teaching future teachers in the College of Education. But for years, she’s also been on the other side of the classroom, working toward her doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction. She defended her dissertation in November, graduates in December and will enter the classroom in January as Dr. Watson. Learn why she went back to school, how the Grand Canyon changed her life and her experience as a children’s book author. 

What brought you to NAU? How long have you been faculty here? 

I applied for a position at NAU to inspire, empower and mentor pre-service teachers! I work with future preschool through high school teachers, helping them understand the current context, complexities and responsibilities of teaching. I started as faculty at NAU in August 2019. This is my fifth year teaching EDF 200 (Introduction to Education) in the Department of Educational Leadership in the College of Education. 

Annie Watson in her graduation regaliaTell me about your research. 

The title of my dissertation is “Family Poverty and the Passive Curriculum of Care: Stories from Unhoused Families and Stories from K-12 Educators.” It was a qualitative study that examined the material conditions and day-to-day realities of youth and family homelessness in the context of widespread economic oppression and rising inequalities in the United States. I used a critical ethnographic methodology. Primary data sources included observations in a mid-sized public school district and interviews with previously unhoused parents as well as K-12 school personnel. Their stories and insights exposed how a passive curriculum of care operates—through compassionate distancing, responsive support services and charitable efforts. The participants’ comments offered insight to the silence and secrecy around poverty, curricular avoidance and the impact of middle-class biases. The data also highlighted existing strategies of support and persisting barriers to equity for unhoused youth within K-12 schools.   

The data is powerful, and I am committed to amplifying conversations about family poverty and youth homelessness with every possible audience from school boards to city councils. I intend to share the findings with the general public, current educators, pre-service teachers, teacher-educators, politicians, and other community leaders. 

Why did you decide to get a doctorate? 

As an undergraduate student, I was fascinated by the idea of teaching at the university level. I had impactful professors who were passionate

Joe Wegwert and Annie Watson
Watson with her dissertation chair, Joe Wegwert

about their work as researchers, writers and teachers. Those professors opened up the dream of academia for me. I should also mention that I love the college campus environment—the study nooks in libraries and coffee shops, the cultural and community events, the space for critical discussion and intellectual conversation, the musty buildings, the chaos of move-in weekend, the tearful joy of each commencement and the buzzing energy of sporting events. A doctorate was a long-term dream, and I decided to go for it when I saw the path before me: a magical combination of family support, an employee tuition waiver, faculty mentors and a deep sense of wonder and motivation. I wanted to better understand the social and political context of K-12 schools, and I wanted to do research related to teacher identity, school culture and classroom culture. The Ph.D. journey was truly transformative, personally and professionally. 

Tell me about a significant childhood memory and how it has impacted your life today.     

I remember visiting the Grand Canyon on a field trip with my fourth-grade class. We hiked half a mile or so down Bright Angel Trail and sat on flat rocks for a sack lunch picnic. After lunch, we took out our journals and wrote poetry, in breezy silence, while we looked out over the canyon. I am grateful to those teachers who made space for me to slow down, examine the world and articulate the beauty around me. That moment instilled a sense of appreciation within me—for nature, land, national parks and our environment. In that moment, I felt like a real writer, an astute observer and describer of the world in fourth grade. I still remember one line that I wrote that day: “The canyon cradles the rocking river as the sunrise holds the blackbirds.” 

Children's book coversWhat did you want to be when you grew up?    

Mostly, I wanted to be a writer. I think I imagined myself writing novels in a picturesque forest cottage with a cup of tea. I have not written a novel, but writing has always been at the core of my life and work. I earned a B.A. in English from Mississippi State University in 2004. I earned my master’s degree in English with a secondary teaching certification from NAU in 2010. I taught high school English for nine years at Winslow High School and Flagstaff High School. I have published two children’s books, and I have written a dissertation! Next, I hope to write articles for scholarly journals and editorial pieces using my dissertation data. And maybe, I’ll write a novel someday! 

What have you been most proud of recently? 

  • I am proud of my children, always; they have so much imagination, goodness and courage. 
  • I am also proud of my former EDF 200 students who are now graduating and teaching all over the state and country. 
  • I am proud of myself for purposefully and carefully choosing where to put my time and energy this semester. I have been taking more steps, drinking more water and earning my health points on the Virgin Pulse app, which has been surprisingly fun!

What is your favorite way to spend a day off?    

Buffalo Park, with a tree up close and blue sky with clouds
A photo Watson took of Buffalo Park, where she and her family like to hike and enjoy nature.

We love to go to Sedona for the day; the splash pad at Sunset Park is a family favorite! In Flagstaff, we are regulars at Bookmans and Fratelli Pizza. On a day off, I like to spend time at home. We have a garden, and we spend summer and fall in our backyard or tent camping. I love to watch college football games, read books, walk/run at Buffalo Park and play board games. 

What are three things on your bucket list?     

  1. Learn to play chess. (My kids can teach me!)
  2. Re-learn the Spanish language.
  3. Find an agent in the children’s publishing industry. 

What was the most important thing you learned from your doctorate—not the education itself, but life lesson? 

I learned that powerful knowledge comes from every real and honest conversation. 

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