One girl says she is confused, and he jokes, “that’s okay, it’s your birthday.” He remembered.
He refers to another student by his nickname, and bounces around to help others on a fractions problem in an easy, soft-spoken style, often admiring his students’ handiwork.
On Jan. 27, at its S.T.A.R. (Staff That Are Remarkable) awards event at the Wesley Chapel High Center for the Performing Arts, the Pasco Education Foundation named Patterson the 2017 Pasco County Teacher of the Year.
He seems almost embarrassed by the attention. Patterson, 46, insists he is no different than any other teacher, and added there are so many more just as deserving.
But, what might have earned him his designation more than anything else is his connection with his students, which is evident as he glides between the maze of desks in his classroom.
“What makes me successful is my relationship with the kids,’’ Patterson says. “I invest time to know them, I integrate them into problems, I interact with them.”
He remembers little things, like birthdays, and tries to know his students’ favorite football team, or what dance class they might be taking, or how many siblings they have.
Making that connection is why, 10 years ago, Patterson first decided to start working on becoming a teacher.
“It was the best career decision I could have made,’’ he says.
At the time, he was on the road making good money as a customer service representative. But, he was away from his children, Jacob, now 13, and Peyton, 17.
And, he admitted that he was missing something. It turned out to be the joy he got impacting young kids, which he did while teaching golf in his earlier days as an assistant pro at Northdale Country Club in Carrollwood and at the TPC (Tournament Players Club) Tampa Bay in Lutz.
It was while still working as a customer service rep that Patterson started taking education classes at the University of South Florida (USF) in his spare time. He sat in on classes with students young enough to be his kids. Little by little, he moved closer to what he really wanted to do.
“I chose elementary school at an early age for kids,’’ Patterson says. “I like this age. I think its important get to kids early, to make an impact early. That definitely helps them later on.”
After completing his B.S. in Elementary Education degree at USF and teaching one year in Hillsborough County, Patterson joined Veterans Elementary in 2009.
He says that although he has learned a lot from the women teachers he has worked with, he relishes his role as the rare male elementary school teacher, especially when it comes to the boys. That means high-fives here and there, sports talk and even fantasy football discussions over lunch.
“This is where I need to be,” Patterson said. “I need to be in education. I just have a love for kids. This is my happy place.”
Wesley Chapel’s Teachers of the Year by school
Wesley Chapel High School: Helen Mester
Wiregrass Ranch High School: Mathew Simmons
Thomas E. Weightman Middle School: J. Franklin Britton, III
Dr. John Long Middle School: Jessica Beagle
Double Branch Elementary School: Deborah Torres
New River Elementary School: Jolene Furman
Quail Hollow Elementary School: Lora Darby
Sand Pine Elementary School: Tamara Perugini
Seven Oaks Elementary School: Stephanie Huff
Veterans Elementary School: Robert Patterson
Watergrass Elementary School: Heather Kiefer
Wesley Chapel Elementary School: Christina Salerno
Wiregrass Elementary School: Stephanie Hodges