Darrion Cockrell, a physical education teacher at Crestwood Elementary School in St. Louis, was born to a drug-addicted mother who had two of her six children by age 16. Cockrell was only four years old when his father was murdered. He then started his journey in life in and out of the foster care system. By age 10, he had joined a gang in St. Louis and hated school.
“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,” said Cockrell recently after he was named Teacher of the Year by the Missouri Department of Education.
Cockrell, or “Mr. DC” as his students call him, said he credits his success to educators who helped him during his difficult moments as a child. “I had a lot of struggles and a lot of hurdles and if not for those educators, I would not be here today,” he said.
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He particularly thanked a man named Ken who looked after him while he lived at a boys’ home for a year during middle school. “He taught me it’s okay to be tough, but at the same time it’s okay to be compassionate,” Cockrell said. “He was like a father figure to me.”
Though there were teachers and adults who helped Cockrell overcome his challenges, it was his football coach and his wife who adopted him in 7th grade, he said. Cockrell then went ahead to graduate from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Today, he is not only a teacher trying to teach kids physical education, but he is in fact one of the best teachers in Missouri. “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,” said Margie Vandeven, the state’s commissioner of education. “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.”
Cockrell, whose inspiring story has been shared by the school district on YouTube, said his message for teachers is “understanding the power that we have to make positive or negative impacts in the lives of others.”
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