As a child, Cockrell said he took education for granted and joined a gang when he thought he had no other choice.
“We were just already in it because of our family,” he told Good Morning America. “I didn’t care about books. 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.”
He didn’t have a stable home then, transferring between a foster center and some relatives. When his grandmother lost custody of him, his counselor, principal, and teachers fought in court to let him stay at school.
Eventually, his 7th-grade football coach and his wife took him into their home, where he lived until graduating from high school. A few years later, he earned a degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Now, Cockrell works as a physical education teacher at Crestwood Elementary in St. Louis County’s Lindbergh School District. Aside from teaching, he also helps to discipline and guide his students with empathy.
The school district’s superintendent told the St. Louis American that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education chose Cockrell as their Teacher of the Year because “he has this ability to bring a smile to your face and connect with people and he does amazing things in that building and with his kids.”
“PE is just as important as social studies and science and math,” he told GMA. “As long as you understand those building blocks of fitness and health and taking care of yourself, then you can do anything you want in the world.”