BENTON Walking into Corey Boby’s classroom at Benton High School for the first time can be overwhelming. The room is decorated with a plethora of flags and banners from universities and armed-service branches. At last count, Boby said, he had well over 300.
“When I was at Lakeside, I was in an interior room,” Boby said. “I am so glad I have windows now. But back then, it was so disappointing to go in when it was dark and leave when it was dark, so I wanted some color for my room.
“So I bought the flags from the schools I went to, and then it just got out of control,” Boby said.
His wife, Tracy Watson, also teaches at Benton, and while her classroom may not be as overwhelmingly adorned, it is just as inviting with a flamboyance of flamingo decorations.
“For my [Advanced Placement] Statistics class, our textbook always had flamingos on the front, and the summer before I first started teaching, they had a contest to name the flamingo,” Watson said, “and they named it Frappy.
“So that was the first thing I bought for my classroom — a stuffed flamingo.”
She said it really took off after one Christmas.
“We celebrate Christmas kind of differently because we don’t have kids,” Watson said. “We do 12 days of Christmas where we get each other a silly gift.
“He took the easy way out a couple of years ago and got me a flamingo every single day. So he didn’t have to be creative whatsoever. After that, it just kind of exploded.”
She said kids buy her flamingos, and whenever they are out and see a flamingo, they text her.
“They will send me a picture when they are at the Memphis Zoo,” Watson said. “They are out in the real world, and they are thinking about me.
“It is so cool.”
Watson had no intention of becoming a teacher. It wasn’t until she was in graduate school at Ohio University did she fall in love with the idea.
“I had no desire until three years into graduate school,” Watson said. “To get them to pay for your tuition, they threw me into a classroom as a teacher’s assistant.
“That’s where I found I just like doing math. You give me math problems, and I am happy. And I found with teaching, that’s what I could do.”
Watson, who was also a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for 13 years, said she just loves school, and the math class is what she enjoyed the most.
“I got my undergraduate degree in math, and it wasn’t until I was forced to teach that I realized I could stay in school for the rest of my life and be a teacher,” she said.
Watson is a math and computer science teacher at Benton High School, alongside her husband, who teaches an ACT Math class, Bridge to Algebra 2, and AP Calculus. The couple, who met in graduate school, just celebrated 20 years together this past summer.
“We weren’t fully enamored with each other when we first met,” Boby said with a laugh. “She thought I was arrogant — cocky was the word she used.
“I thought she was a bit of a nag. We hardly talked to each other. We actually got together out of pity.”
During their time at school, Watson invited some of her classmates over for a dinner on Easter “because we didn’t have an extended weekend, so nobody could go home,” Boby said.
“I never thought he would say yes,” Watson said.
“But then we found out we weren’t so incompatible,” Boby said, “and I had to win her over.”
The couple live in Malvern with their four dogs and two cats.
“And we have a couple hundred kids here,” Watson said.
Boby, who was previously selected as a 2017 state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, received his bachelor’s degree from Marietta College in 1994, and Watson earned hers from Millersville University in 1991. Boby first moved to Arkansas in 1996 for a job at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs.
“She convinced me to take it,” Boby said. “I think she was hoping I would never come back.”
He also previously served as the math coordinator for the Benton School District for seven years. He returned to the high school to teach last year.
“I just have always wanted to be a teacher,” Boby said. “I tried other things, but my heart brought me back to the classroom.
“For me, I always wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher before I even stated school. Both my parents were teachers, and I played school before I even started school.”
Boby said that while he was serving in the administration role, it became obvious that teaching is what he was meant to do.
“I was teaching a college algebra class before the day begins at 7 a.m.,” he said. “And the best part of my day ended at 7:45 a.m. And when the best part of your day is over at 7:45, that’s not the way you want to spend your day.
“When I was honest with myself, I knew I needed to be in a classroom.”
Watson said she was against the idea of the two of them working together at first.
“But we don’t see much of each other during the day,” Watson said. “I fought it for a very long time. That’s probably why I stay at the end of the hall a lot.
“But throughout the course of the day, teachers spend 95 percent of their time in their classrooms with their students. So generally, we don’t see each other more than we would with any other teacher.”
Boby said the focus isn’t on other adults, but the kids.
“We both just love being around our kids,” Boby said.
At the end of the year, Boby will host a “Signing Day” for all of his seniors, regardless if they are a student-athlete or not. He will have them sign the back of the flag from the school they will attend. And if Boby doesn’t have the flag, he will either try to find one or make one.
Last year, he had nearly 30 students sign a flag.
“There were a lot of kids from Benton last year who went to Ouachita Baptist [University in Arkadelphia],” Boby said. “My biggest group might have been Ouachita Baptist.
“We seem to have a really strong connection to OBU. I feel like that is a good choice because it is close enough, but far enough away for independence.”
Boby said he believes the signing day motivates his students.
“Whether they sign a flag or a flamingo, if that motivates a kid to finish, then it is all worth it,” he said.
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.