Kirk Tapley

Kirk Tapley 

Kirk Tapley, an advanced world history teacher at Howard W. Bishop Middle School, has a special room in his house.

The office that doubles as a guest bedroom is filled with mementos from his four years of teaching. Cards, printed emails and hand-written notes from students are neatly filed in a drawer. A giant check he once won for his classroom efforts hangs on the wall. 

The newest addition is a crystal apple that rests on the bookshelf. Two other teachers also won the apple, which represents that they were finalists for the 2020 Alachua County Teacher of the Year award, but Tapley has something they don’t — a certificate proclaiming him as the winner. 

Each Alachua County public school names its own teacher of the year, and each winner votes for the official 2020 Alachua County Teacher of the Year. This year’s winner was announced during a banquet on Jan. 30. 

At 26, Tapley is one of the youngest teachers to win the award, said Michael Gamble, Howard W. Bishop Middle School Principal. 

Tapley was up against Kasey Norris from Alachua Elementary School and Joshua Forgione  from Gainesville High School.

“There’s a lot of talented teachers out there that have been paying their dues for quite some time, but I think (Tapley) really moved the profession forward,” Gamble said. 

Tapley teaches in the same classroom he once learned world history in as a middle schooler, but he runs the class a little differently than his teacher did back then. 

Tapley is known for his unconventional teaching methods — namely DJ Globe Up, a character he plays in class to help students review learning materials. 

With a painted turkey baster as a microphone and a cardboard necklace with the word “history” strung around his neck, Tapley climbs on top of chairs and desks and raps his own made-up history lyrics to songs like “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars and “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake. 

“I needed a way to review what we learned the day before without it being mundane and boring,” Tapley said. 

Students in Tapley’s class also learn practical lessons such as how to change a tire, balance a checkbook and file taxes alongside topics about India and Europe, he said. “A lot of times you’re learning stuff in school and you’re thinking, ‘When am I ever going to use this in the real world?’” Tapley said. “I can’t guarantee that somebody down the road is going to teach them these skills, so I might as well take the responsibility.” 

Ryan Black, a 12-year-old student in Tapley’s class, said Tapley is her favorite teacher. Black and her friends made a poster for Tapley during the banquet and cheered like crazy when he won, she said. 

“If I’ve had a bad morning, he makes it better just by giving me a high-five because it lets me know that he’s there for me and that he cares,” she said. “I think he’s the best teacher that I’ve ever had and probably will have.”

Tapley will soon send an application to officials from the Florida Teacher of the Year Program, who will review each county’s chosen teacher and likely choose a statewide winner in July, said Karen Clarke, Alachua County Schools Superintendent. 

The winner spends a year away from the classroom to tour Florida schools and work with the State Department of Education, Clarke said. No one from Alachua County has ever won. 

If he were to win, Tapley said he would fight for higher teacher pay and flexibility in curriculums. 

“I decided to teach in Alachua County because I know what it did for me and my life,” he said.  “And if I’m able to repay it and represent Alachua County well as (Florida) Teacher of the Year, then I will do that.”

Contact Hope Dean at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @hope_m_dean.