For fifth grade students at Independence Elementary School, their teacher, Rex Walls, is the equivalent of a fatherly, loving teddy bear.
"He helps other students learn how to be themselves," said Jordyn Walker, one of Mr. Walls' former students. "He cheers people up [and] knows how to make people happy."
The family feeling within Walls' classroom doesn't only have an impact on the kids; it's also on the teacher who already has nine kids of his own at home. He and his wife, Carrie, simply got the empty nest syndrome after having two children of their own. Kids three through nine were adopted.
That same love for children Walls has in his family is carried over into the classroom, where the "classroom teddy bear" is not only a teacher, it's a mascot sitting near the front of the room. The teddy bear style of teaching means caring for the well being of the students, rather than focusing exclusively on their grades.
"You have to put yourself in the place of the students, and if you can do that, then you know what they need and how you can reach them, and be a part of those kids' lives," said Walls, the December 2009 winner of the 9Teachers Who Care award.
"Every teacher that teaches, no matter what grade level... they have got to be able to model themselves to those kids. That means having good values and showing them the good choices and good doorways to open throughout life," Walls said.
Outside of the classroom, Walls prides himself in having a tightly knit family that got closer after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. It's added even more significance to the out of classroom efforts Walls helps organize about life decisions. Those programs include DARE, The Outdoor Experience and The Independence Brotherhood, which provides African American students of color in Cherry Creek Schools with a positive alternative to gangs and drugs.
Carrie Walls, now in remission and a cancer survivor, says that love for others is what drew her to Rex in the first place.
"There can be a student that has had a pretty rough couple of years, and the students just bond with Rex, usually making a 100 percent turn around," Carrie Walls said. "He's just an awesome guy all the way around, and when he gets to playing with the kids at home, he can be a big kid at heart."
"I'm still a kid," Rex Walls said. "A lot of times I don't think I've grown up. But I love the kids, and being around them."
"I used to tell my administrators, 'I don't care if the kids learn diddly squat, as long as they love school.' If they love school, they're going to be successful in school," he said.
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