Darrion Cockrell, Lindbergh’s ‘Mr. DC,’ named Missouri Teacher of the Year for 2021

Crestwood+Elementary+surprised+Mr.+DC+with+a+socially-distanced+parade+and+celebration+Friday%2C+Sept.+4%2C+for+winning+2021+Missouri+Teacher+of+the+Year.

Photo by Erin Achenbach

Crestwood Elementary surprised Mr. DC with a socially-distanced parade and celebration Friday, Sept. 4, for winning 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

Darrion Cockrell, the Lindbergh Schools educator named 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year, sees the statewide honor as an opportunity to continue his mission of connecting with children in positive and fun ways that help them be healthier and happier.

Known to nearly everyone as “Mr. DC,” Cockrell has taught physical education at Crestwood Elementary for five years. In a matter of months, he’s won virtually every teaching award it’s possible to win, starting with Teacher of the Year at Crestwood Elementary, then Lindbergh Teacher of the Year, then St. Louis Regional, then state. Now he’ll compete for National Teacher of the Year, crowned in May. Aside from those honors, he was one of 10 teachers nationwide who was honored by Chance the Rapper in the Twilight Awards, the first awards show honoring teachers as if they were celebrities.

Far from the tacky track suits and military drills seen in movie stereotypes of PE teachers, Cockrell is bringing physical education into the 21st century with viral videos on health, fitness and lately, how to properly wear a mask using superhero figurines. (Pro tip: Batman and Captain America have it all wrong, covering up everything except their mouth with their masks.) To show his students they can do anything, he once ran 10 miles from his house in Ballwin to Crestwood Elementary, even though prior to that he’d never run more than five miles at a time.

More importantly, Lindbergh officials say Cockrell has created a culture and community among parents and teachers at the school that values fitness — lessons that can last much longer than an hour of class.

As a crowd gathered outside Crestwood Elementary Sept. 4 to reveal the news to Mr. DC that he had won state Teacher of the Year, Superintendent Tony Lake said, choking up, “All these people are here to celebrate what I would say is just an exemplary educator — if you guys know Mr. DC, his heart is as big as anybody’s, he gives back to his kids. I can’t think of a better ambassador for our school district, our state, than you.”

Crestwood parents know that Mr. DC frequents their children’s outside weekend activities, including dance competitions and basketball games, and also hosted open “Crestfit” gym nights for parents. But they may not know the story behind why he is so attentive outside of class.

While Cockrell was growing up surrounded by violence in the city of St. Louis, PE class in the Parkway School District was his “happy place” and where he really thrived. His teachers attended his games and activities to cheer him on when he wouldn’t have had anyone else in the stands.

“Teachers really changed the trajectory I was going in my life,” he said. “Even though your parents may not give you that support that you need, you can get it from school — I wanted to be that person for some of these students as well, and I know that a lot of my students need that and I think that I’m giving that to them. And I think just learning how to run and jump and play and just having that love and support from me means a lot.”

Whatever a student’s outside issues, in Mr. DC’s PE class they can run, play and just enjoy being the children they are — and they’re not the only one having fun.

“I have so much fun at work that it doesn’t even feel real,” Cockrell said. “I’m like how do I get paid for this? … What other job can you go to where everyone wants to see you? Their smile when you come into class — they love you, you’re literally like the rock star of the school. It just makes their day.”

Before fourth- and fifth-graders started back in school last week, Cockrell spent a full class laughing on Zoom with his students, all of them excited that they were going to be back together soon.

To clear the way for dozens of students, parents and teachers to gather outside the school and surprise Cockrell with the news that he was Teacher of the Year, Principal Charity Schluter lured him to her office, supposedly because he was in trouble for playing music during parent dropoff.

When they walked back outside, Cockrell’s wife, Kimberly, and 3-year-old son Dawson ran up to him and jumped into his arms yelling, “You won! You won!” Genuinely shocked, he was asking what he won until the news sank in. Seeing the many balloons and not knowing what was going on, his son wished him a happy birthday.

Cockrell said it was easy to surprise him with the news because for every one of his honors this year, he didn’t think he’d win.

Going into the Sept. 1 interview for the statewide honor, Cockrell said he was convinced he wouldn’t win, so he decided to just make it a memorable discussion.

“I’m thinking I may not be State Teacher of the Year, but these people will never forget me in this interview we just had,” Cockrell said. “When I left the interview, I said you know, I had a fun run.”