Getting to know you…Richard McCormick

Published 10:00 pm Monday, September 8, 2014


By Claire Sachse

When sixth graders step into Mr. McCormick’s math classroom at Polk County Middle School, they are immediately surrounded by Sponge Bob Square Pants. On the walls, shelves and counters, on his desk, filing cabinets and chair, the square yellow cartoon character fry cook is everywhere.

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From mugs to pencil holders, Pez dispensers to figurines, cookie tins to pillows, to hand drawn illustrations, the pineapple-dwelling sponge’s presence can’t be ignored.

McCormick insists that the “obsession” is not really his, but his students’. Starting with one figurine from his birthday cake, students began adding to the collection year by year.

Known by his students for his humor, McCormick said that he believes that if he sold his collection he could “retire at a young age.”

“Most kids love it and really get into it,” said McCormick, about his collection. “It really opens the door to lots of conversations. You have to have an element of entertainment to draw them in, to make them want to work for you.”

McCormick believes that sixth grade is an important year in the life of a student.

“It’s a big transition year,” he said, as children move up from the elementary schools. McCormick has been teaching math at the middle school for 11 years.

He also described how many parents express concern that math often is a child’s worse subject.

McCormick said about his math class, “By the end of the first six weeks, you’ll enjoy it and understand it.”

“Math is important. To me, it opens doors of opportunity. It challenges your ability to think abstractedly. Math keeps the doors open to opportunity, like in medicine or engineering,” he said.

Now in his twenty-fourth year of teaching, McCormick said that he can’t think of any student that he wouldn’t want to teach again.

He enjoys seeing the “aha moments” of understanding in his students. “When the light bulb goes off, their body language changes. They have enthusiasm. All of a sudden, I see their faces light up. They want to be called on.”

McCormick recently completed his doctorate in education, giving a dissertation relating to how homework affects the educational experiences of sixth grade students.

“The research shows that homework can be an extremely powerful motivator, or, it can create disengagement. When there’s a lack of success with homework, the emotional aspect is very powerful,” he said. When he assigns homework, he allows students to start it in class, so they can ask questions, and he can provide immediate feedback.

McCormick grew up 30 miles from the Canadian border in upstate New York. His first four years of teaching were in a Florida elementary school. He moved to the Green Creek area of Polk County in 1995 where he and his wife foster rescue animals. They have two children and a grandchild.