Teacher of the Year uses troubled past to connect with students

The 2014 National Teacher of the Year is Sean McComb from Baltimore's Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts. He will be honored at the White House.

McComb is only 30 years old, making him one of the youngest Teachers of the Year ever. He is a high school English teacher with just eight years of experience in the classroom, but if you ask any of his students, they will say that McComb is much more than their English teacher.

McComb will do just about anything to get his students fired up about learning. It's a big part of why at just 30 he has been named National Teacher of the Year. But that passion for education wasn't always there.

CBS News' Chip Reid remarked, "You were not necessarily the world's best student back when you were in school."

"I wasn't," McComb said. "I was always the student with potential, but sometimes I didn't meet that potential. I had a lot of struggles in my home life. My parents both went through some periods of unemployment. My mother was an alcoholic, and our home life was challenging a lot of times. There was a lot of chaos."

The chaos started to calm when he found inspiration through two of his high school teachers.

McComb said, "They were compassionate for what was going on in my life, but, at the same time, they knew that I needed to hold myself to high standards in order to get out of there and to make something of myself."

Asked if they saved him, McComb said, "They absolutely saved me. There was darkness, and they shined a light into that darkness and made me believe that I could do more, that I could be someone."

Now he's paying it forward in his own classroom.

He said his philosophy of teaching is "kids before content and love before all."

"I teach students," he said. "I don't teach English. I teach students English, and my first task is to make sure that they feel loved and cared for and safe to take risks."

McComb's teaching isn't confined to the classrooms and hallways. He pushes his students and uses his own troubled past to connect with those who might need a guiding light.

At just 16, Brandy Batty had a child of her own. After being kicked out of her home, she had nowhere to turn.

Batty said, "When I was going through my storms and my roller coaster, he was there, every down and up."

Batty said she was thinking about quitting school.

"I was thinking about taking the easy route," she said. "He was like, he just pushed me, was like, 'Nope, I'm not going to let you do it.'"

She said he's more than a teacher to her.

"He's like a hero because, without him, I don't think I would be sitting here today," she said. "I really wouldn't."

Patapsco High School Principal Craig Reed said, "We want teachers to care about those kids, and that's what Sean does."

Reed said McComb represents the best of what teachers can be.

He said, "It is really deeply felt compassion for students. It is every day trying to get better. Every day he teaches the students in his class as if they were his own, and that's what we all want as parents, as citizens."

McComb insists the award is not just for him but for teachers across the nation who put heart and soul into their jobs.

McComb said, "I hope that they embrace me as their ambassador because I love this profession. It changed my life, and I hope that I can use it to change others' lives as well."

McComb will be at the White House Thursday at a ceremony where President Obama will honor the finalists of the National Teacher of the Year competition.

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