From the Block to the Blackboard: Why Darrion Cockrell's Teacher of the Year Award is So Important

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St. Louis-based elementary school teacher, Darrion Cockrell, was named the state of Missouri’s 2021 Teacher of the Year by a committee of his peers back in October. Cockrell is the state’s first male teacher to receive the prestigious award since 2015, but it is his backstory that has grabbed major headlines and validates the significance of his achievement.

Cockrell was in the foster care system by the age of six and was a member of the “Six-deuce-87 Kitchen Crips” gang by age 10. In his acceptance speech, Cockrell detailed early childhood traumas of being the son of a mother addicted to drugs and a father who was murdered when he was only four-years-old.

He credits a great deal of his positive outcomes to his football coach who, along with his wife, adopted Cockrell when he was in seventh grade. He would go on to play football for two years at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and ultimately earn his degree.

Cockrell began working as a paraprofessional after graduating in 2013 before landing a permanent teaching job at Crestwood Elementary in 2015. It was at Crestwood where his work as a physical education teacher earned him the Teacher of the Year honor for his innovative “Crest-Fit” training program that has been a huge hit during a period of virtual learning.

According to the American Federation of Teachers, Black men only make two percent of the nation’s classroom teachers. According to studies by John Hopkins University, Black students taught by at least one Black teacher by third grade are 13 percent more likely to go to college and reduces the dropout rate of low-income Black boys by 39 percent.

Classroom representation matters. Lived experiences matter. Stories of redemption and proven success are invaluable to Black students. There is no better example than educators who could have been discarded by the criminal justice system but emerged from dire beginnings to be an example for the next generation.

Darrion Cockrell wants the narrative of his troubled beginnings to be amplified because he understands what the power of his transformation can mean for students that look like him.

From 2019’s National Teacher of the Year, Rodney Robinson to Darrion Cockrell, brothers are making an impact in classrooms around the nation.

And that alone is worthy of high praise and rewarding.

About the Author

Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be