Beau McCastlain, a television production teacher at De Queen High School, was named the Arkansas Teacher of the Year Monday (Oct. 9).
McCastlain learned he had been selected out of 34,000 public school teachers statewide during a surprise visit to his school studio by Gov. Sarah Sanders and Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva. His students responded with enthusiastic applause. He had been selected as one of four semifinalists this summer.
Starting July 1, 2024, he will spend next year out of the classroom traveling the state and promoting teachers, and he will serve as a nonvoting member of the Arkansas State Board of Education.
“I can’t wait to share our story, but more importantly I can’t wait to hear their stories and share their stories across the state of Arkansas,” he told reporters.
Responding to Sanders’ announcement, McCastlain credited his students.
“I’m hard on them, I hammer them, but they know I love them, and I just thank them because they let me teach them the way I teach, and it’s not always easy,” he said. “Everything that we have here, any success I’ve had, any success that our program had is because we have the great students here.”
Sanders noted that McCastlain had responded to the award by talking about his students and not himself. After presenting him an oversized $14,000 check sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation, she was treated to a newscast produced by the students.
Asked by a reporter about the awards the program has won, McCastlain said, “Awards are nice, but that’s not why we do it. What’s even better, what makes me feel even better is when they leave here, seeing the skills that they picked up within our program, and they’re able to apply those skills in whatever industry they go into, because that’s our number one goal with our program.”
McCastlain also gave credit to his school district, telling reporters, “Any success I have is just because of our Leopard family. All I am, I’m just a byproduct of what we have here and our people. We’ve had folks visit us through the years to see why certain things are working within our school, and it’s not some curriculum you can package up and sell. It’s nothing you can bottle up. It’s our people.”
He was named the 2022-23 De Queen High School Teacher of the Year and De Queen Public Schools Teacher of the Year. Previously, he had received $1,000 for being an Arkansas Teacher of the Year state semifinalist and, before that, $1,000 for being a regional finalist.
McCastlain began teaching 14 years ago and started De Queen’s television production program more than three years ago. According to a press release from the Arkansas Department of Education, “McCastlain promotes a culture of school pride by empowering students to showcase the many learning opportunities in their classrooms, schools, and communities. He has built partnerships with the local radio station and the Arkansas Broadcasters Association, which have resulted in paid internships and freelance opportunities for his students, and his students have received state and national recognition for their work.”
He also serves as the district’s communications director. The studio streams sports and has worked with community groups like the Chamber of Commerce.
McCastlain started his career in 2001 as a photojournalist at KTHV Channel 11 in Little Rock and also worked for KARK Channel 4, KLRT FOX 16, KHOG/KHBS 40/29 News, and KATV Channel 7.
In 2009, he became a teacher, head baseball coach and assistant football coach in Foreman. He then moved to De Queen. He earned a Master of Science in Educational Leadership and Administration from Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.
The announcement in McCastlain’s classroom and studio was a departure from previous years’ announcements that have been held in schoolwide assemblies. The change was made in hopes of creating more of a surprise.
But McCastlain had begun to suspect something might be happening. He knew it was about time for the Teacher of the Year to be named. On Friday morning, his superintendent, Jason Sanders, told him he needed to have his students in the studio Monday because another school was visiting. Having visitors was not unusual, but the way Sanders phrased the request was a departure. McCastlain said that shortly before the announcement, office workers looked at him differently than they normally would.
“I went back to my kids,” he said. “I said, ‘All right. Something’s up. I don’t know what’s up. Supposedly somebody’s coming, a school’s coming to see us, but I don’t know, it’s more than that.’
“And then when they walked in, I was like, ‘Oh, wow. Oh, wow.’”