To be named a Teacher of the Year in your hometown is a big honor. Being one of five finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award is a whole new level of prestige. Jermar Rountree of Center City Public Charter- Brightwood Campus knows what that feels like. The Washington, D.C. Teacher of the Year for 2023 was named one of five finalists for this year’s national award. What may surprise you is the man known affectionately as “Coach” is a physical education teacher. He’s the first PE teacher in seven decades to be nominated for the honor.
“It’s an incredible situation,” said Rountree. “I literally had no idea about the first one, but to then get one of the five final spots for the national one is an amazing feeling.”
Rountree works with a range of 260 to 280 kindergarten through eighth grade students every year. For many of them, he is more than simply a teacher – he serves as a mentor. Rountree isn’t just aware of that – he’s appreciative of the opportunity because he knows first-hand what having a mentor can do for a kid.
“Every year I look at students and see myself in a bunch of shoes. I can look at them and go ‘I was you.’ It makes talking to students that much easier.”
Rountree is the grandson of a World War II veteran. He grew up with a family that moved a lot. He shared that he went to eight different elementary schools as a kid. One indirect side effect of that upbringing is that he didn’t connect with too many teachers, but he did make friends quickly with other students.
“I developed this ability to make friends fast, but I also had an attitude toward teachers that I knew I wasn’t going to be there very long.”
Rountree didn’t look at his teachers the way that some of his students may look at him. That is, until he met Darryl Parker, a substitute teacher in the Waterbay Public School system that was filling in for a day.
“He changed the way that I look at things, and I shifted,” he remembered. “Every time I saw him, he would check in. Those check-ins made me feel better about being in school.”
Rountree embraced being in school, regardless of whichever one he moved to. As he grew up, he played sports in middle school and high school. His two favorites were basketball and football, and he was recruited by Penn State University at one point, but his grades weren’t high enough for him to move on to that level.
“I ended up going to a community college for about a year and a half with the idea of going to play football.”
Football may have been on his mind, but destiny would have a different course for Rountree – law enforcement. After agreeing to go with a roommate to take a test for law enforcement, Rountree actually passed, but his roommate did not. After considering the opportunity, Rountree opted to move forward with training to become a corrections officer, even while still working toward his degree in history.
“I ended up getting it and graduated in a class of 255, and I wound up being a corrections officer. It wasn’t my dream at all. I was just helping my roommate.”
Sleep was a precious commodity for Rountree at this stage of his life. He would go to school at night while stationed at a level IV maximum security prison in Bridgeport, CT. While he was there, he worked off a basic system with the inmates – give respect, get respect. He made the most out of the days he worked there by following that creed, but one 18-year-old inmate stood out to him because he asked Rountree to read a letter that he couldn’t read himself.
“In that situation, I asked myself ‘how could I prevent that?’ I was going to school for that reason – to educate our young black men and children of all colors, but particularly young black men so they didn’t end up in a place like this.”
Like Darryl Parker was a mentor and guiding light for Rountree, he wanted to become the same for the children of a new generation. After receiving his degree, he wasted no time trying to make a difference. While he was in Connecticut, he started business called “Physical Education and Nutrition Training.” His focus was teaching people in preschools and day care centers how they could teach P.E. to their children.
“I gave them tools, I created this whole curriculum, so teachers had what they needed to teach kids in that age range how to be fit, value nutrition, and how to interact.”
Rountree also ran bootcamps with families at another school he worked at in the D.C. area. They would meet at the National Mall and take part in workouts. He also worked with vendors and organizations so they could take part and give the families more to take home with them. He was doing more than training people. “Coach” was doing just that, coaching kids and parents to be active members of a community.
“This year, I’m working with my students in my elective class. They will be running stations and tables, creating mini workout lessons for families to try out at an event.”
The winner of the National Teacher of the Year award is expected to be announced in the middle of April 2023. Whether he wins it or not, the Washington D.C. Teacher of the Year award winner has clearly went above and beyond to make a generational difference in his area. Whether it’s with his day job, personal training, coaching, or even doing bike rides, his goal is to make an impact on kids and families, just as Mr. Parker did for him.
“I try to provide as much as I can to families and our kids.”
You can connect with Jermar Rountree on Linkedin.