Darrion Cockrell Overcomes Childhood Gang Stint to Become Missouri Teacher of the Year

The inspiring life story of a beloved educator

Darrion Cockrell Missouri Teach of the Year
Meet Missouri's Teach of the Year: Darrion Cockrell.
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

For some people, the right teacher can change the world. The life of Darrion Cockrell is a prime example of that. He navigated a troubled childhood, which involved stints in foster care, his mother’s addiction to drugs and his own experience of joining a gang at the age of 10, before ultimately finding his own calling. Cockrell credits a number of the teachers he had when growing up with changing his life.

Now, Cockrell is himself the kind of teacher who changes lives — the state of Missouri just named him its 2021 Teacher of the Year.

CNN’s report on Cockrell’s life and award focuses on the speech he gave when he accepted the award. “My message for teachers is understanding the power that we have to make positive or negative impacts in the lives of others,” he said.

Cockrell himself was ultimately adopted by his football coach when he was in the 7th grade. He graduated from the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 2013, where he studied education. He’s credited with reinventing his school’s physical education program, and spoke about his interest in making students’ experience in his class enjoyable. And he’s also used his own life story to keep his students engaged.

His approach to making fitness enjoyable goes above and beyond his students. Cockrell also created after-school fitness programs for students and parents alike, and established a weekly basketball night for students’ fathers. Since the pandemic began, he’s continued to offer classes via Zoom for students and their families.

Reading about Cockrell’s creativity and passion for his work, it’s not hard to see why he’s been honored by his peers — or why his life has inspired so many people.

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