St. Louis man moved out of his gang life into becoming Missouri’s Teacher of the Year

Darrion Cockrell
Photo provided by CNN.

Teachers are responsible for much more than just the academic success of their students. A Missouri teacher’s incredible story has inspired him to change generations, and lead to an incredible recognition.

“I’m getting paid to have fun with kids, this is the best job in the world,” Darrion Cockrell, or DC, said. He’s a PE teacher at Crestwood Elementary.

“I started from the bottom,” DC said. “Six-deuce-87 Kitchen Crip gangster, yep. Your 2021 Teacher of the Year used to be in a gang.”

From a neighborhood in north St. Louis City to Missouri’s 2021 Teacher of the Year. DC grew up believing he existed to fail.

“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 4, and I began my journey in and out of the foster care system not long after my 6th birthday,” DC said.

In middle school, DC said he leaned on his teachers, confided in a school counselor and was adopted by his football coach. The adoption altered the way he viewed the world and his place in it.

“When I changed the way I looked at things, the things around me started to change,” DC said. “I had a lot of struggles and a lot of hurdles and if not for those educators, I would not be here today.”

In the gym, DC teaches his students about more than physical heart health. He’s using his story to change the narrative. He’s teaching compassion and perseverance.

“Now that I have this platform, I think it will allow me to go into more schools where they have more kids I can talk to,” DC said.

He’s been teaching for the last six years and his students love him.

“He’s really funny and teaches us how to stay healthy and have fun at the same time,” Caroline Dallman said.

His administrators are inspired by him.

“His story shows every kid that anything is possible,” Assistant Principal Kit Norton said.

With all the joy he shares with his students, you’d never know he’s been through more struggle than any kid should ever experience.