WESLEY CHAPEL — Rob Patterson welcomed his Veterans Elementary School fifth graders back from gym class with a challenge.
The children had begun learning how to multiply with fractions recently, and he wanted to see what they remembered. So he told them to take out their white boards and write an equation for 10 groups of 1/2, then solve it.
"I don't know this," one boy complained.
"That's all right," Patterson responded, reminding the students that making mistakes is part of learning.
After a minute he asked everyone to hold up their work for all to see. He effused over one girl's responses.
"I love, love, love how Jillian wrote, 10/2 is the same as 5," he said, turning to see what others had done. Positivity breeds positivity, after all.
His enthusiasm captured the children's attention, and encouraged them to keep working. Everyone wanted to learn from Mr. Patterson, Pasco County's 2017 teacher of the year.
Patterson learned of his honor late Friday during a ceremony by the Pasco Education Foundation. Others to receive awards were Sharaya Janes, a resource management associate at Gulf High (School-Related Employee of the Year); Rebecca Musselman, a supervisor in the Office for Technology and Information Services (Administrator of the Year); and Jenatte Smith, a child care site manager at Mary Giella Elementary (Nonbargaining Employee of the Year).
Just eight years ago, Patterson, 46, wasn't even a teacher.
A golf pro by profession, he was traveling the state as a service representative for a company that manufactures coin-handling equipment. He took that job to make money for his family.
But on the road, "I realized what I missed."
He wanted to spend more time with his own kids, and also to work with other children, as he had done while teaching them to play golf. So he headed back to college — "The kids were like half my age," he recalled — and became a teacher.
Patterson targeted elementary school to give youngsters a positive male role model in a setting where few exist. And he picked fifth grade to provide that one final boost before the kids' transition into middle school.
"I truly think this is the job that is meant for me," he said.
His coworkers shared that view.
"I tell everyone Mr. P has that It Factor," said Kelly Faysash, a fifth-grade language arts teacher who shares students with him. "He's so involved in students' lives. He really loves his students, more than I've ever seen any other teacher. … He's hard on them, and he expects a lot of them. But in turn, they love him."
That's clear by the way they clamor for his attention in class. And by the way he has to pick their names from a cup to answer questions just so no one thinks he's playing favorites. And by the way they talk about him.
"He's good," said Gabe Sargent, 10, after getting some insights on the fraction multiplication problem. "If you're having trouble he will help you. He will go through the problem with you. He won't tell you the answer, but he will go through it so you understand it better."
"He won't give up until you understand," chimed in Katya La Costa, 10, sitting nearby. "He just tells us to try hard. Sometimes, you don't get it. But he says you can't learn unless you fail. That's what motivates me to do better."
Nick Luppino, also 10, said Patterson is "super, super fun" and "awesome."
"I've been in this school for six years," Nick said. "He's my No. 1 teacher."
Ever humble, Patterson demurred such accolades.
"There are so many great teachers in our county," he said. "I learn constantly from my own team and … from my fellow colleagues at school. We're part of a well-oiled machine. If we do what we're supposed to do, any teacher could be a teacher of the year finalist."
As county teacher of the year, Patterson becomes eligible for the state and national honors. Last year, Marchman Technical College electricity instructor Don Blake became Pasco's first county teacher of the year to be state finalist.
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.