Destin Middle's teacher of the year Ryan Patterson relates school lessons to life

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Ryan Patterson, a history teacher at Destin Middle School, is making his mark on his school's history. 

Patterson, 36, was recently selected as Teacher of the Year by his peers. 

"I was very surprised. But the most surprising thing to me was I was the only name on the ballot,” Patterson said. 

Ryan Patterson has giant flags around his classroom at Destin Middle School. Teaching is "all about the kids," Patterson said.

“This is a hard job … they are all teachers of the year,” he said of his fellow teachers. 

Destin Middle School Principal Belinda Small said Patterson is a "tremendous asset" to the school.

"Ryan is deeply committed to the education of students in every sense of the word. He is passionate about the welfare of students as young people and helping them grow into outstanding citizens," Small said.

Patterson, who describes himself as a military brat, is in his fourth year at Destin Middle. He came up in the Okaloosa County School System from Florosa Elementary, Bruner Middle School and graduating from Fort Walton Beach High in 2005. 

After high school he played college baseball at Florida State College in Jacksonville, but was benched by injuries. 

“I had seven surgeries my first three years there,” he said, noting four were knee surgeries. 

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He became a coach while recovering, then got a call to return to playing. He finished his last two years of playing at Shorter University in Georgia. While at Shorter he had three more surgeries, bringing the total to 10 during his college career. 

“But I have used those experiences to teach my kids how to overcome adversity,” Patterson said. 

Originally, Patterson’s goal was to play professional baseball and if that didn’t work out, he was going into the military. 

After college he started training to go into the military when he ruptured a disc in his spine. And while waiting for surgery he was hired as the junior varsity baseball coach at Fort Walton Beach High in 2014.  

“While I was doing that, I subbed, and I fell in love with teaching,” Patterson said. 

Rocky Road to Destin Middle 

From 2014 to 2019, when he was hired at Destin Middle, Patterson was “all over the district,” he said. 

He was hired as a full-time sub at Bruner for two months. 

Then he got a call from Shorter University to come help build an intramural/fitness/recreation program. Patterson answered the call, but then missed his roots on the Gulf coast. 

“I’m a surfer. I miss the beach and I miss that life,” he said. 

Ryan Patterson, 36, of Fort Walton Beach is Destin Middle School's "Teacher of the Year."

In 2015, he moved back and landed a job at Shoal River Middle in Crestview. 

“While I was there, I had another surgery,” Patterson said. 

He had another surgery as a result of skate boarding. 

In 2017, while at Shoal River, a fight broke out and he stepped in to help and wound up fracturing his spin in five places. He was out of school of five months and then came back walking with a cane for a year. 

'It's all for the kids' 

In 2019, Patterson was hired by Grant Meyer to teach social studies at Destin Middle. Plus, he had another knee surgery. 

“I’ve had 19 surgeries total,” Patterson said. 

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“Those surgeries have been such a blessing. They weren’t when I was going through them, but to be able to talk to these kids about it. I’ve been through 19 surgeries, and it has taught me so much about myself. So, I’m able to teach them a lot about overcoming adversity,” he said. 

“It just kind of hooks them in. 'He’s been through that, then I can get through this,'” Patterson said. 

While he was undergoing the back surgery, he had to focus his mind on something, so he got his master's degree from University of West Florida. He is currently working on a PhD in psychology. 

What drew Patterson into to teaching? 

“I just want to make a positive impact on these kids' lives. I want to show them that there is a lot more they can achieve out there,” he said. 

“Sometimes we get caught up in 'the school is just these walls,' but I want to show them that the school is the world. Like you are going to learn so much more in life than I’ll be able to teach you here,” he said.  

Patterson has done the “Teddy Bear Project” with the students, where they gather up teddy bears to give to pediatric cancer patients. Since 2015, including his time at Shoal River, his students have given 5,000 teddy bears. 

He’s led his students in fundraisers after Hurricane Irma  

At Destin Middle, Patterson teaches eighth-grade U.S. history and fifth-grade aspiring leaders, which he calls “virtue 101.” In that class, he teaches how to be good friends and classmates, how to plan and run a project and work as a team. 

Ryan Patterson is now in his fourth year at Destin Middle School and was recently selected as "Teacher of the Year."

“I teach every fifth-grader,” he said, which is about 200 throughout the year. 

He also teaches seventh- and eighth-grade leadership classes. Those students led in the school 911 project as well as serving as teachers' aides, doing fundraisers and more. 

“Last year, they raised money and bought clothes for kids at Christmas. They come up with the ideas, and I just kind of walk them through how to do it,” he said. 

The one thing he likes teaching the students most is life. 

“There’s not a subject I teach in history that I don’t relate it to their life,” he said. 

“If I have a topic that I’m teaching in history that I can’t directly tell them, ‘You are learning this because it will help you with life,’ … they are not going to want to learn it,” he said. 

“Teaching them how to apply lessons from the classroom in their regular life. That’s my favorite thing,” Patterson said. 

And he was honored to be named teacher of the year. 

“I was humbled. The scores show we’re the best middle school in the district, so to be the teacher of the year, it’s an honor. 

“But it’s all for the kids,” he said. 

“Everything I do is for the benefit of the kids and the community. I see education as public service. We’re serving our community by not just giving our students knowledge but to be good people and good citizens. What bigger responsibility than that. 

"And I wouldn’t be the teacher I am if I didn't’ have such great students. They make it fun. Everything is for them, and I wouldn’t be the teacher I am without them,” he said.