Where will tomorrow’s K-12 teachers come from? For many Missouri school districts, it’s possible these individuals will come from their own classrooms.

At least this is one of the hopes of educators who planned and organized the Future Teacher Academy (FTA) Oct. 6 at the University of Central Missouri.

Attended by approximately 450 middle school and high school students and 50 faculty sponsors, the Future Teacher Academy is a cooperative effort designed to help students explore teaching as a possible career.

This initiative involves faculty members and students in UCM’s College of Education (CoE), faculty and students from more than 30 Missouri school districts, representatives of the Heart of Missouri Regional Professional Development Center (RPDC), Central Missouri RPDC and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The academy began in 2018 as part of the UCM education faculty’s Grow Your Own Future efforts, and involved 10 students. But as public school-university relationships have grown, so has this event.

“I had the privilege of working with school district partners to invite students and faculty sponsors to campus in order to inspire them to consider teaching as a career,” said Linda Glasgow, who serves as coordinator of UCM’s paraprofessional program and is part of the team that helped plan this year’s FTA. “I believe the exponential growth the program has experienced is a result of the relationships formed between UCM faculty and students and school district faculty and students."

She said events such as the academy place value on providing attendees an opportunity to view themselves as future college students and as future teachers.
While this was the first year middle school students have participated, she said, “High school students who have attended our past events have enjoyed and learned from UCM’s greatest resource: our students and faculty. UCM students and faculty have presented in panel format and demonstrated what it looks like and feels like to attend UCM. Students speak about college life and how to balance college life, college studies, and jobs. Faculty share their journeys to teaching and the path to the teaching profession at UCM."

Further enhancing learning opportunities, academy participants engage in activities that help them understand the teaching profession and the important role teachers have in their communities.

”We hope to inspire students to choose teaching as a career and choose to return home to their communities as teachers,” Glasgow said. “The events are an invitation to the teaching profession and to making a difference in the lives of students."

Also part of the planning team, Meredith Beggs, assistant instructor, elementary education and math specialist, shared a long list of schools that were part of this year’s event. While there were participants from larger suburban schools such as the Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit school districts in the Kansas City metropolitan area, students also came to campus from many rural communities, such as Calhoun, Lone Jack and Slater,just to name a few. Beggs said UCM, DESE, and the RPDCs sent out invitations to the event to teachers and faculty sponsors of Future Teacher Clubs at middle schools and high schools around throughout the region.

“The teachers/faculty sponsors then shared the information with students who may be interested in the teaching profession. Some of the districts have participated in previous FTA events and are returning attendees,” Beggs noted.

The one-day event began in ballroom of the Elliott Student Union where UCM President Roger Best shared a recorded message that welcomed attendees and also reflected on the teachers who inspired him throughout his education career. UCM Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Phil Bridgmon also spoke. Opportunities for participant interaction and making connections followed.

“First, students spent some time discussing their ‘why’ for considering a career in education. A few volunteers shared their thoughts with the rest of the group. We then created a word cloud using menti-meter of qualities/characteristics of inspiring teachers,” said Brandy Lynch, assistant professor of physical education. “We highlighted some of the common themes, then watched a short video about the power of relationships (between teachers and students in a school setting)."

As the event continued, she said “Students had a chance to share stories of inspirational teachers with each other (and again a few shared with the whole group). To wrap up, we completed a Kahoot quiz which covered some scholarship information, history of UCM, and stats about UCM CoE (College of Education) grads. The goal was to create an interactive and high energy environment where students could identify and make personal connections to the characteristics of inspiring teachers.”

After eating lunch in the residence halls, courtesy of UCM Admissions, the day concluded at the Union ballroom where 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year, Darrion Cockrell, presented the keynote address.

Affectionately referred to as “Mr. DC” by his physical education students at Crestwood Elementary School in the suburban St. Louis Lindbergh School District, Cockrell has been teaching for six years. It’s an opportunity he said came as the result of many teachers who were difference-makers in his life.

He lost his father by the time he was five years old, he spent time in foster care, and by age 10 joined a gang. He talked about bumpy road filled with many challenges that he faced growing up in a rough neighborhood, and what it meant to him to eventually earn a college degree. To get there, he had overcame obstacles as youth that included learning disorders, and bouts with anxiety and depression.

“Twenty-plus years ago, I would have never imagined being in this position I am in today. It’s definitely been a journey to say the least. But that’s the great thing about life. It’s the journey we go through day in and day out along with the connections we make with others along the way,” Cockrell told the gathering. “If it were not for my educators, who helped me stay focused and on track along my crazy journey of life, I cannot with any confidence or certainty tell you I’d be standing up here today."

He told students if they want to become educators, they should be prepared to “wear many hats.” Among many suggestions Cockrell offered the young audience is the importance of being “authentic” in their future work with students. He stressed the value of future teachers making sure they learn their students’ names, and seeking to obtain and share information that will help establish good teacher-student connections. Cockrell also pointed out the importance of being able – as a teacher – to connect, inspire, love and support the students whose lives are being touched through their education.

In addition to his recent state recognition, Cockrell received a 2020 National Box Tops for Education Twilight Award, presented by Grammy-award winning rapper, singer/songwriter and activist, Chance the Rapper.

The Future Teacher Academy is consistent with a 150-year tradition of preparing teachers at the University of Central Missouri, and the university’s longstanding motto, “Education for Service.” While UCM today offers more than 150 different degree programs, the institution was founded in 1871 as the State Normal School, Second Normal District, with a mission to prepare teachers who could serve Missouri schools.

In the photo: Missouri’s 2021 Teacher of the Year Darrion Cockrell, a physical education teacher at Lindbergh Schools’ Crestwood Elementary School in St. Louis, presents the keynote address to about 500 middle and high school students and faculty sponsors at the University of Central Missouri Future Teacher Academy.