The Dart: Couple offers two lifetimes of learning

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 7, 2011

NATCHEZ — Two lifetimes of educating and coaching local young people were just behind the door at the house of Coach Cleveland and Earnestine Watts when The Dart landed on West Stiers Lane Saturday.

The Watts couple has both worked in the education system in Natchez and Ferriday for decades as math teachers, and Cleveland Watts as a high school football and junior high basketball coach.

Ernestine Watts said she taught across the hall from her husband at Ferriday Junior High School for 10 or 12 years. The couple also taught simultaneously at Natchez High School for three years.

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“Working together was good because if a lesson wasn’t going over well with students, we could collaborate and come up with a better lesson plan,” Ernestine said.

Ernestine still teaches seventh-grade math at FJHS, and Cleveland now volunteers his time as a tutor at New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church, where he serves as a deacon.

Both teachers agreed that junior high-age students are a special group.

“The students are not grown up, but they are also not children,” Ernestine said. “They are trying to find themselves.”

“You never know what children at that age are going to do,” Cleveland said. “You have to have an even temperament, so when a child makes a mistake, you can talk about the mistake without discouraging the child.”

Photos of basketball teams adorn the walls at the Watts’ home. Cleveland coached football at Natchez High School and basketball at Robert Lewis Middle School and Ferriday Junior High School.

Coaching and educating youngsters were one in the same for Cleveland, whose teams have brought home district titles for two and three years back-to-back.

“I wanted to instill in them the concepts of hard work, good attitudes and to be your best at all times,” Cleveland said. “We worked on self-confidence a lot, but mostly how to lose and still win. If the team did their best, and they lost, they were still successful. We would go back and work on our mistakes.

“But if you won, and walked off the floor with a bad attitude and didn’t learn, you still lost.”

Ernestine said she was inspired to be an educator by her mother’s sister, who was a teacher. Cleveland said his father taught farm mechanics back home in Rolling Fork, but he was inspired to teach and coach by his own football coach.

One of the Watts’ children has perpetuated the family legacy of education, as vice president of college services at Lakeview Community College in San Antonio.