Spotlight: Eric Patin (NC '15)February 2, 2016
Eric Patin (NC '15) knows he's doing his job right when former students come back to see him and share their post-graduation accomplishments. He received North Carolina's 2015-16 Milken Educator Award on October 15, 2015 at Chatham Central High School in Bear Creek.
Milken Family Foundation: How did you end up in education?
Eric Patin: An elementary school teacher suggested it after seeing me interact with a group of 5th-graders. A friend and I were playing football in a park shared with the school, and a group of boys approached us. We organized a game with them and had a blast doing it. When the bell rang, the teacher remarked how impressed she was with how I interacted with the kids. She asked me if I had ever considered becoming a teacher, and that was when I first entertained the idea.
MFF: You worked as a carpenter before starting your teaching career. What did you learn?
Eric: The most important thing I learned while doing construction is that people learn best when they do things themselves and "figure it out" on their own, rather than being told or shown how to do it.
MFF: Who was your most memorable teacher?
Eric: Mr. Gates, my 4th-grade teacher. I remember looking forward to school every day because we learned in so many different ways: games, activities, and current event discussions.
MFF: Tell us about your first class.
Eric: My first class was tough! It was a biology class that was about 80 percent boys, many from very disadvantaged backgrounds. I was so ill-prepared to teach them as a first-time teacher. They taught me so much about what I needed to do to be better.
MFF: What’s your most memorable moment from that first year (good or bad)?
Eric: I noticed one Friday morning while reviewing for a quiz that the fish tank had turned green and the fish were struggling to breathe at the surface. I had to fill another tank and transfer the fish, all while trying to keep enough order in the room for students to take the test!
MFF: What was the hardest thing about your first year teaching?
Eric: Feeling like I wasn't making a difference. I felt like it didn't matter if I was teaching or not. I knew I didn't have the tools yet to deal with the population I was working with, and that was extremely disheartening for me.
MFF: Did anything about your first year take you by surprise?
Eric: The level of apathy my students had toward their futures and their education took me by surprise. It was hard for me to watch students sabotage their futures, even though I understood the socioeconomic reasons for it.
MFF: A student tells you he/she is thinking about a career in education. How do you convince him/her?
Eric: I would tell the student that teaching will never make you second-guess how you spent your time here on Earth.
MFF: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?
Eric: I think it showed students that it doesn't matter where you are or who you are; what matters is what you do. You can be from a small, out-of-the-way place and still do great things that get noticed.
MFF: What’s your favorite time of the school day?
Eric: When students are working in my room and I'm going around to them as they work. I might be answering questions or guiding them. This is when I get to know them and build relationships because I'm also asking about their lives, picking at them, joking with them, and breaking down the student-teacher wall.
MFF: If someone gave you a million dollars to use in your school, what would you do with it?
Eric: This one is easy! I would invest the money and use whatever interest or dividends it yielded to fund scholarships.
MFF: When you retire (someday), what do you want your former students and colleagues to say about you?
Eric: That what they learned from me helped them later in life. I also would like to hear whatever memories they had outside the classroom because I tend to forget a lot of funny stories.
MFF: If you hadn’t chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?
Eric: Probably running a construction business, and I would not be very happy.
MFF: Finish this sentence: "I know I’m succeeding as an educator when..."
Eric: "...I see former students as successful adults, and they are happy to see me!"
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