Top notch teacher
Blue Earth Area’s Teacher of the Year Award was given to a middle school staff member at a ceremony last Monday afternoon.
Brian Kokos has been the seventh grade life science teacher at BEA for the past 16 years. It is the only place the new Teacher of the Year has ever taught.
“It was my first job right out of college,” Kokos says. “Gary Agren hired me and I have been here ever since.”
Kokos is a graduate of Apple Valley High School and of Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
He was a football offensive lineman at both the high school and college level. And, he now coaches linemen for the Blue Earth Area Buccaneers. He also is a track and field coach.
In presenting the award, BEA staff member Becky Anderson said Kokos is a very dedicated teacher and coach who really cares about his students.
“He is here long after school, nights, weekends and almost every day in the summer,” Anderson said.
Kokos says he puts in the extra time because his students deserve it.
“It goes along with trying to have a lesson filled with activity and to keep things active for the students,” Kokos says. “And, of course, in science there is a lot of extra prepping, getting the lab set and trying to keep up with keeping the lab replenished with the consumable items.”
In addition to his regular class, Kokos has occasionally added a section of eighth grade or sixth grade science, or taught in the Alternative Learning Program when it was in Blue Earth now located in the former Winnebago Elementary building.
But, his main focus has been seventh grade science every year.
BEA’s teacher of the year had a teacher in his past that he credits with getting him interested in the teaching profession.
“He was Mr. Hendrickson, at Apple Valley,” Kokos says. “He taught developmental psychology, and you had to apply and be accepted to be in that class.”
Part of the class work included going out and doing some teaching.
“I taught a sixth grade drug education class, as a senior in Mr. Hendrickson’s class,” Kokos remembers. “It was very challenging. Imagine being 18 and trying to teach a bunch of 11 and 12 year olds about saying no to drugs.”
But, between that experience and the inspiration of his favorite teacher, Kokos says he knew right then he wanted to go into education and he focused his schooling on it.
Going to SMSU (then known as SSU) was a good combination of getting an education to become a teacher and also play football, he says.
“In fact, for my student teaching I went to Montevideo and they had arranged for me to be the assistant football coach for offensive line that year too,” he recalls. “So, in the fall I was a football coach there and in the spring I student taught.”
After that, it was a move to Blue Earth and the start of his teaching career.
Kokos and his wife, Laura, (who just recently began working at Blue Earth Monument) have two children.
Abram is a fifth grader at BEA and Murron is a kindergartner and an unofficial BEA assistant football coach.
“She is the one that was in the picture on the front page of the Register last fall, helping me coach the line,” Kokos says with a laugh. “But actually she bonded with Fabien (exchange student Fabien Riegelsberger, the Bucs’ kicker). She said she was his coach and they had lots of conversations. Although, we laughed about what a six-year-old and a 16-year-old boy from Germany would have to talk about.”
When Kokos is not busy teaching or coaching, he tries to spend as much time as possible with his family.
“We try to do a lot of camping in the summer,” Kokos says. “It really is an excellent way to center ourselves as a family.”
The BEA teacher of the year was hesitant to talk about himself, instead giving credit to a lot of other folks.
“There were four staff members who were nominated for this award this year and all three of the others were very deserving,” he says. “In fact, I feel every one on the staff could be nominated and deserves the award. I am very blessed to work with this excellent group of staff members here at Blue Earth Area.”
He compares it to a big family or a football offensive line.
“We all work together in a common goal, just like the o-line,” he says. “In football we block together, in teaching our goal is to work together to help the students learn.”
Kokos says there have been many teachers, some retired and others still at work, who have been his role models over the years.
But, he comes back to two in particular.
“Mr. Hendrickson was my rock, my mentor. He never seemed to have a bad day,” Kokos says. “He taught me what to value, what is important, and that you can make a real difference in students’ lives.”
The other one is Gary Agren.
“He’s the guy that took a chance on me and hired me,” he explains. “But he also helped me, and made sure I was doing my best. And I knew that if I didn’t he would lay in to me. He would visit my classroom often and I knew he would hold me accountable. And I really appreciated that. It made me a better teacher, for sure.”
A teacher so good as to be recognized as the Teacher of the Year at Blue Earth Area.