How One Man Went From Gang Member To Teacher Of The Year.

It takes a special person to make a career out of teaching, and it takes an incredible teacher to go above and beyond to save a student.

Darrion Cockrell was lucky enough to have some life-changing educators around while he was growing up. They are the reason he went from being a gang member to being recognized as Missouri’s 2021 Teacher of the Year!

Today, Darrion is a 34-year-old physical education teacher at an elementary school, and he’s beloved by students and staff members alike. It’s a far cry from where he started out as a kid in the foster system who was on a path to destruction.

Growing up, his home life was anything but stable, and he joined a gang at a young age. “I didn’t care about books,” he told GMA. “I had to go home and figure out what I was eating. I had to figure out if my lights were going to be on.”


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After his parents lost custody of Darrion and his siblings, they were constantly shuffled between his grandmother’s house and foster homes. By the time he was in middle school, he was on the verge of being sent to a “boarding school for troubled youth,” but his teachers stepped in! They went to court to fight for him to stay, and one of them ensured he would show up to class by driving him to school every morning for six months. That’s when his perspective on education began to change.

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That wasn’t the last time his teachers would intervene in his life either. As he was finishing up seventh grade, his school football coach and his wife took him into their home. They essentially raised him from that point on, letting him live with them all the way through his college years.

Between his deep respect and admiration for teachers and his love and talent for sports, Darrion went on to become a physical education teacher!

“Not only do I get to get a paycheck, but I get to get it by doing something that I actually, truly love,” he said.

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He took his passion for teaching a step further by bringing it into his community!

He created “Crest-Fit training,” where he leads after-school workout classes for teachers and students’ families. He also started a weekly “Dad’s Club Open Gym” event, where fathers can come and play basketball together.

It’s no wonder he was named Missouri’s top teacher this year! Darrion has overcome so much, and he takes his role in society very seriously. We’re happy to know his students have an educator in their lives who is just as kind and selfless as the ones who helped Darrion all those years ago!

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