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Oklahoma's 2009 Teacher of the Year, who will speak Monday at East Central University's Marvin Stokes Endowed Lectureship, says he had to fail before he learned how to reach his students and pull them away from failure.

Photo of Brian GrimmToday, Brian Grimm is called "the single greatest teacher I've ever seen" according to his former principal, and "as non-traditional as it can get."

Grimm will speak at 6:30 p.m. in the Estep Multimedia Center in the University Center. His presentation is open to the public. Area Teachers of the Year also will be honored.

Grimm earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha and went to Texas 13 years ago where he taught advanced placement classes in rather affluent schools. His students were ready to learn and presented few problems. Grimm thought he was a successful teacher.

Then he moved to Tulsa and Will Rogers High School, a school on the state's "needs to improve" list. There, he said in his application for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, he encountered "angry, aggressive and apathetic students plagued with generational poverty, disappointed by their communities, daring me to try to teach them anything. Well beyond my professional skill set, I made it until March."

That's when he went to the school secretary, turned in his keys and drove home, ashamed that he was not the teacher he thought he was. He was humbly forced to return to school, however, he said, because his house key happened to be attached to the keys he had just turned in.

"I took it as a sign," he wrote, "so I committed myself to finding whatever I needed to reach my students and to be effective. I had been blessed by failure."

Grimm, who teaches English II and III and pre-advanced placement English, now shares the ideas and strategies he found and created with teachers in workshops across the state and nation.

He said his teaching philosophy is "reaching kids where they are and taking them where they need to go." Working with other teachers is one of the ways to do that.

As Oklahoma's Ambassador of Teaching for a year, he will travel across the state to talk to teachers, businesses and civic groups, sharing his message that it's not an easy task, but teachers can pull kids away from failure.

The Stokes Lectureship was established to recognize Marvin Stokes' distinguished career in education. Stokes, who died in 2005, was a lifelong educator and long-time superintendent of Byng Schools. He was an ECU Distinguished Alumnus and a member of the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame.

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