Nominated by parent Letitia Mack and her son, Malex Lark:

My son has struggled over the years with some behavioral issues, outbursts and general defiance issues. By the end of last school year, he had so many referrals, we lost count. Mr. Decker became a role model, mentor and example for my son by listening to him, talking him through difficult situations and helping him adjust. He spent extra time after school helping him with school work and also speaking with him about life struggles, offering advice and becoming a positive male role model. Mr. Decker helped my son, Malex, begin to learn patience, respect and the importance of advocating for himself and his needs. My son was placed on an IEP at the end of last school year. Mr. Decker spoke on my son's behalf at his initial IEP meeting and spoke of what a good kid my son is and how much he believes in him and what he is capable of. Now, as an 8th grader, Malex is a student aide in Mr. Decker's 6th grade social studies class. Not only has most of the school year passed without a single incident or referral, but my son received a Student of the Month award - nominated by Mr. Decker and other teachers to recognize my son as a positive role model and example for his peers and the 6th grade class that he helps. The award was presented to my son by Mr. Overby, the behavior specialist that used to see my son on a regular basis when he was sent to the office for a referral. Mr. Decker specifically said that he is especially proud of my son for becoming a mentor himself for a 6th grader in the class. My son has gone from the "trouble maker" to the "role model" in one short school year. I give much of this credit to Mr. Decker, his ability and willingness to listen to my son, find out what he needs in order to be successful and talk to him as a person and not just as a child. Teachers that take time and interest in the true success of their students, not just in school, but in life in general, are very hard to find these days. Mr. Decker is just one of those teachers who has a special gift with how he relates to and communicates with kids. He talks “to” them and not “at” them. I honestly believe that Mr. Decker has helped my son become a better student, friend, son and person. This nomination is just a small token of my appreciation for what he has done for me and my son. I truly will never be able to repay him for what he has done for me and my family. My son and I are closer than ever and I owe much of that to Mr. Decker. My son will definitely miss him next year when he goes on to high school.

Congratulations James, from all of us at K103!

What inspired you to become an educator?

When I was working in the music industry in my early 20's I was starting to feel like this was not the right fit for me and there was something missing in my life. Half way through a music tour I left my position as tour liaison and went home. I then started looking for jobs and the girl I was dating at the time just took a position as a camp counselor for the summer so I followed her. My first group of children where blind and deaf and in that one week I learned more about myself then I had over the course of my entire life. I quickly bonded with these kids and regardless of any disabilities they had I treated them all the same and shared my excitement that they were in my cabin and I was proud to be with them. The last day of the week my cabin made me a number of trinkets as thank you gifts but one has stayed with me ever since. This was a bracelet with the University of Michigan's colors which is my favorite team. This boy worked on it anytime I wasn't around and when he was supposed to be sleeping. When he gave it to me I shed a tear because he put some much effort into it as well as pride. To this day 18 years later it is still on my wrist as a symbol of what it means to impact another life and each time I look at it I strive to do just that.

What do you like most about teaching?

Each day is a new challenge and even when I think I have seen it all or done it all something new presents itself. No child is the same and because of that I am constantly learning just like my students.

What has changed the most since you began your career in education?

Wow! This is a loaded question but I can say that the biggest changes are in the kids themselves and to some degree class sizes. Each year when I think I have figured my students out I realize I am right back at the drawing board so to speak. The class sizes is something I can handle it just seems that I don't always feel like I can give enough one on time like I could in the past.

What would you like parents to know about your job?

I would want the parents to know that without them in more then one way my job would be so much more difficult. Parents are the ones that help shape values, reinforce work ethic, teach openness to new ideas and share with their children the importance of education. They can help break down barriers that often times can cause learning to be difficult. I often use the analogy “It takes a village”.

Share a favorite story about your years in education.

I teach in my class the importance of making a difference and that history always repeats itself. One day, years back, I was getting ready to start the school year and in walks my new student teacher. At first all I saw as an eager and overly dressed up young man but then there was something familiar about this him. I stood up and began to introduce myself to him but he stopped me mid-sentence and said he already knew me well. I looked at him and then it clicked. This was a student of mine from one of the first years of my teaching career and he then began telling me that it was in part because of me he wanted to become a teacher and he wanted to come back and say thank you but also to learn how to impact kids the way I impacted him!