Tavis Smiley, her most famous former student, recognized her focus on academic excellence and student success, by choosing her as his most influential teacher for the TeachersCount poster campaign. Celebrities chose a teacher to pose with them for posters, emphasizing the importance of the teaching profession, with the slogan, "Behind every famous person is a fabulous teacher."
Oatess hopes her college students are learning from the posters and her example that teachers, and the work they do, are important.
"I hope they learn a love of teaching in general, and an awareness within themselves they can make a difference, one individual at a time."
Smiley, who is most recently known for his radio show "Smiley & West," remembers Oatess treated every student in her Maconaquah High School class equally, with respect. She called each student "Mister" or "Miss," which made an impression on him as a young African American man.
He recalled her telling him, "If you don't know the answer today, Mr. Smiley, you'll know it tomorrow," and if he did not know the answer the next day, he failed that day.
"Those words so resonated with me that I built an entire company on them," he said.
Oatess retired from Maconaquah in 2006, then became an adjunct lecturer in the School of Education. She also supervises student teachers.
Oatess, who earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in education from IU, said she teaches her college students that mutual respect is the key to success in teaching, rather than trying to be a friend.
"I believe if you can achieve mutual respect, then they will listen. If they are listening, you can teach them," she said.
Paul Paese, dean of the School of Education, said Oatess cares about her students, and demonstrates academic excellence.
"She is an outstanding methods teacher. She brings her years of successful teaching to her classroom, giving education students the knowledge they need to become excellent teachers."
Katy Lewis, an art education major, said Oatess taught her methods class that a teacher must establish respect from the first day, "or you will have a zoo."
She said Oatess' years in the classroom make her a valuable resource to future teachers.
"We are learning from all her years of experience," Lewis said. "She challenges us, because she wants us to be the best teachers we can be."
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.