Darrion Cockrell, a physical education teacher at Lindbergh Schools’ Crestwood Elementary in St Louis, Missouri, was named as the 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year by a committee of his peers in October.
In his acceptance speech that was uploaded by the school late last month, Mr Cockrell revealed that he had a tough upbringing and had joined a gang by the time he was 10-years-old.
“That was normal life for me. I was going down the wrong path, destined to end up just like my friends — dead or in jail,” Mr Cockrell said in his speech.
“I was born to a drug-addicted mother who had two of her six kids by the age of 16. My father was murdered when I was four, and I began my journey in and out of the foster care system not long after my 6th birthday,” he added.
However, Mr Cockrell said that with the help of his adoptive parents and two of his PE teachers, he was inspired to become an educator himself.
He added to CBS News: “I had a lot of challenges and a lot of hurdles, and if it were not for those educators who helped me along the way, I wouldn't be where I am today.”
During his speech, Mr Cockrell also thanked a man named Ken, who he said mentored him while he was living in a boys’ home during middle school.
“He taught me it’s OK to be tough, but at the same time it’s OK to be compassionate,” Mr Cockrell said about the worker at the home. “He was like a father figure to me,” he added.
After his spell in the boys’ home, Mr Cockrell was adopted by his American football coach and his wife in 7th grade, and went on to graduate from the University of Missouri-St Louis.
Mr Cockrell revealed that the adoption changed his perspective on life, saying: “When I changed the way I looked at things, the things around me started to change.”
After thanking several teachers and role models in his life, Mr Cockrell added: “My message for teachers is understanding the power that we have to make positive or negative impacts in the lives of others.”
Margie Vandeven, the state’s commissioner of education, said that “Missouri is fortunate to have so many high quality educators, and Darrion will be a wonderful representative as our state’s Teacher of the Year.”
Ms Vandeven added: “He guides his students towards long-term physical and mental wellness, and the connections he has established will impact Crestwood children for years to come.”
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