CODY — When students enter Cody High School John Corbin’s social studies classroom each day, they receive a high-five at the door.
Class begins with positive self-talk to prime students' brains for the hormonal response of those affirmations. He then plays a game that incentivizes students to put their cellphones in a numbered caddy, which allows them to focus on learning.
“The first thing that I tell the kids when they come into my classes is, ‘I like do things a little differently, so get used to it,’” Corbin said. “They’re things I believe in, but they make me stand out sometimes.”
Corbin recently stood out in an even bigger way when he was recognized in a surprise assembly as the Wyoming Teacher of the Year for 2024.
It’s recognition his students say Corbin deserves.
Cody High Kelly Joyce said she was thrilled to see her "favorite teacher ever receive the award because it's hard to find teachers who have such a significant impact on students' lives."
Joyce took Western Civilization, History in Hollywood and AP U.S. History with Corbin.
"One of my favorite things about Mr. Corbin's class was the way it was run," she said. "Mr. Corbin taught the class in various learning styles, each one appealing to a different type of learner and thus allowing his pupil to acquire knowledge in a way that best suits their needs.
“Mr. Corbin's engaging teaching is the reason I excelled in my history classes and continue to be an amazing scholar. Without Corbin's love for teaching for his students, I would never have been able to reach my goals and chase my dreams.”
‘The Zimbrick Test’
Corbin is in his 16th year of teaching, with the last eight spent in Cody. He teaches Western Civilization, U.S. History, AP U.S. History, American Government and occasionally a History in Hollywood elective course. He is a National Board-certified teacher and has received numerous awards, including the John P. Ellbogen Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence in the Advancement of Quality Civics Education.
"John Corbin is an incredible teacher, leader, coach, lifelong learner and person,” Park County School District 6 said in a statement. “His dedication to students is unyielding. He creates relationships with his students through engaged lessons and differentiates activities to aid in his students’ success. Whether it’s a multimedia lesson, a student-led debate, or a project steeped in history, the Constitution, art and culture, his passion is evident.”
His path toward education began thanks to his third- and fourth-grade teacher, Margaret Zimbrick (a fellow Teacher of the Year) in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I walked into her class in third grade, and she started us learning the opening to ‘Cats,’ and we produced, not the entirety of the Cats musical, but we crushed like four or five of the sections for our parents,” Corbin said. "It was all interwoven into what we needed to learn that year and it was the most fun that I've ever had learning.”
Corbin said he wouldn’t be the teacher he is today without Zimbrick’s influence.
“When I create or try to innovate, I put it to the Zimbrick test,” he said.
‘What Makes A Kid Tick’
In high school, Corbin knew he wanted to coach and that being a teacher was the easiest way to accomplish that. He enjoyed science and social studies, but he eventually shifted his focus towards history because he’s always loved stories.
“I knew so many of my friends that didn't enjoy history and how it was taught, so one of my main objectives when I became a teacher was to challenge the status quo and bring the fun to the history class," he said.
Corbin does this in a variety of ways, including a build your own adventure to help illustrate how the Neolithic Revolution happened and Rap Battles of History in American Government.
“Another thing that I do in Western Civ is we look at the rise and fall of empires and I let them pick groups based off of musical genres, and they basically create a playlist that outlines the factors of the rise and fall of an empire, but then they have to justify it,” he said.
And while he tries to keep things fun, for Corbin it all starts with building relationships with his students.
“Kids don't care what you know, until they know that you care,” he said. “So, I start by trying to figure out what makes a kid tick and how's history going to be relevant in their life? How does it connect to something that they actually care about?”
Corbin was named Park County School District 6 Teacher of the Year in June.
“There's so many good teachers in this district and so many people that are deserving of recognition in that way,” he said. “I'm incredibly flattered.”
Prior to the assembly in September, Corbin had an inkling he might receive the state award because “the superintendent of Public Instruction doesn't come here all the time.”
“It's a little weird just because I know so many great teachers, not just in our district, but throughout the entire state,” he added. “Winning this award is the culmination of a ton of work, a ton of early mornings and late nights and things that people don't see all the time. It's really nice to be seen.”
As Wyoming Teacher of the Year, Corbin will represent the teaching profession in Wyoming and be a spokesperson for education. He also will attend state and national education events and conferences.