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From Foster Care To Being Named Missouri's 2021 Teacher of the Year

From Foster Care To Being Named Missouri's 2021 Teacher of the Year

A heroic story!

A Missouri man has transformed his life from foster care and gang activity to become the 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year, Good Morning America reports. 

Darrion Cockrell is a St. Louis, Missouri native and growing up, he didn’t have the most comfortable life. He was raised by his grandmother, who struggled to take care of him and his siblings after his father was murdered and his mother struggled with drug addiction. Cockrell said life was hard, and in between his grandmother’s house, he found himself in and out of foster care at a young age, eventually getting involved in a gang. 

“We were just already in [the gang] because of our family. I didn’t care about books. I had to go home and figure out what I was eating. I had to figure out if my lights were going to be on,” Cockrell told GMA about his upbringing.

When he was about to be transferred to a boarding school for troubled youth in middle school, Cockrell’s teachers stepped in and saved him. “My counselor and principal and a few teachers actually went to court and fought for me to stay. My middle school teacher picked me up every day [at the foster center] and drove me to school. She pretty much was my mom for six months,” said Cockrell.

He never forgot that generosity. As he matriculated through school, eventually discovering his love for football and going to live with his football coach, he was constantly reminded of the power of a helping hand. Cockrell credits his coach with providing him with the resources and opportunities he needed to play football in college and earn his degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He went on to get married, become a father, and landing his first full-time teaching job at Crestwood Elementary. He teaches physical education to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The 34-year-old says he only remembers loving one subject in school, P.E. Now, as a teacher, the opportunity to pour into children’s lives the way someone paid attention to him is one that he doesn’t take for granted. Along with his work in schools, he has also started the Crest-Fit training program, providing after school workouts for teachers and students’ families and the Dads’ Club Open Gym, a weekly meetup for dads looking to play basketball. 

This past spring, he received the 2020 National Box Tops for Education Twilight Award, presented by Chance the Rapper, in honor of his work. Now, he has been named as Missouri’s 2021 Teacher of the Year. 

“I still can’t believe it. Just having a job is something I’m so appreciative of because growing up, people didn’t have jobs. That’s why when people see me, I’m always happy and laughing and smiling because I get a paycheck every two weeks and not only do I get to get a paycheck, but I get to get it by doing something that I actually, truly love,” said Cockrell.

Dr. Charity Schluter, principal of Crestwood Elementary, says Cockrell’s lived experience makes him so great at his job and helps him connect well with his students. 

“Educators were able to influence him and to help him along his journey, and now he is incredible at building relationships. I think the reason he’s so effective is he is so genuine. He is real. And kids, especially elementary kids, are really good at differentiating between, ‘Do you really care about me or are you just saying it?’” Schluter said. 

“I can relate to almost anything that they could be going through. If you think about a trauma that could have happened to a kid, it probably happened to me. With my students, I want to get to the deeper issue and understand what’s going on in their lives. I think the silver lining of the pandemic is it’s shining a light on how important educators are, not only to students but to families,” Cockrell said. 

Cockrell is the first man to win Missouri’s prestigious Teacher of the Year award since 2015. 

Congratulations, Mr. DC!

Photo Courtesy of Good Morning America/University Of Missouri-St. Louis