Paul Hanney was THAT kid.

Hanney (BSE 2000, MS 2010), a third-grade teacher at Westside Elementary School in Pittsburg, is not shy about his academic record as a youngster.

“I absolutely hated school,” Hanney recalled. “I was not good in a single thing, except art. When I was in elementary school, all of the desks were in rows and I sat in the very back. I loved it, because I could draw my little pictures and not listen to what the teacher was saying. So I was never really engaged.”

Hanney eventually dropped out of high school and ended up in an Air Force recruiter’s office.

“The recruiter never asked me if I had a high school diploma,” Hanney said. “He asked me what my driver’s record was. At the end of that week, I was on my way down to San Antonio for basic training.”

In the Air Force, Hanney chose carpentry because it was on-the-job training as opposed to technical school.

After military service, Hanney’s wife, Darlene Brown, encouraged him to go to college, thinking he might get a construction technology degree.

Hanney started with an art course, where he got his first A.

“I was on top of the world,” Hanney said.

His wife was shocked when in response to her question about what he wanted to do next, Hanney replied, “I want to be a teacher!”

“I realized at that time, passing that art course, that I wasn’t dumb like I thought I was,” Hanney said.

Hanney began his teaching career at Cecil Floyd Elementary School in Joplin.

“Oh, man, that first year was tough,” Hanney said. “One of the things that made it tough was that I had about four girls and about 18 boys. But I had a great principal there. He took a chance on me.”

Now at Westside Elementary, Hanney hopes his own students can learn from his experience, which includes not only dropping out of high school, but also earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees and graduating Phi Kappa Phi.

“I tell these kids, ‘You have a teacher who is uniquely qualified to tell you how to fail and how to succeed.’ I went home and I never studied. I never read. Guess how I did in reading? Terrible! I was terrible in spelling. Guess how much I practiced my spelling words? None! I was lousy in math. Guess how much I practiced math? Not at all! There is a connection there,” Hanney said. “I’m not going to let them fail. That’s why I wanted to be a teacher. I do not want kids to go through what I went through.”

Hanney said he believes that being engaged in the classroom is the foundation for success, so he’s incorporated that into the way the class operates.

“I do a lot of group work. All the tables are arranged in groups so they have to talk to each other,” Hanney said. “I’m not concerned if you leave my class and you’re not an A student as long as you try your best. It will happen. Don’t give up!”

Hanney also stresses individual accountability and being polite.

“The thing that matters most to me over everything else is that I get across to them that it’s the choices that you make that are going to really determine what you become,” Hanney said.