BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) - December's teacher of the month will tell you the subject he teaches isn't one he excelled at in school, but he believes what he is doing goes beyond math equations.
Mark Sparks was giving a test on the final day of regular class at Batesville High School when we walked in to surprise him.
Nearly speechless, every one of his students clapped as we revealed he was our December teacher of the month.
He's no stranger to Batesville High School.
He grew up there. He even attended Lyon College.
In college he fought with the idea of being a teacher, worried the career may not make ends meet, but his dad gave him this advice.
"As long as you follow your heart and you follow your calling, God will provide anything you need in your life," Sparks said.
He knew his calling was to teach, and that's what he's done for over 20 years.
His first teaching job was at Lonoke, then his second year he returned to Batesville School District where he's taught ever since.
Sparks teaches algebra 3, pre-AP calculus, and AP calculus.
"Math was always the subject that I struggled with the most," Sparks said.
It was his own teachers, though, that got him through.
At the end of the day, it's not his goal for his students to remember every equation but that they mattered.
"The bigger key to get students to learn a subject that's kind of intimidating is you show them that you love them," Sparks said.
Sparks said it's his job to teach students how to think.
"You're not just teaching math," Sparks said. "You're not just teaching history. You are teaching students and those students are people, and those people have feelings and needs."
While Sparks is known for his students doing well on the AP calculus exam, he said his students are defined by more than that.
Sparks mentors future pioneer graduates and stays in touch with his former students.
"He's the best teacher I know I've ever had," said Clayton Roberson, a Batesville High School junior. "He's been a huge influence on everything I've done."
An influence Sparks makes not by just saying, but doing.
Sparks helps plan and organize graduation and, at one time, was the Batesville mascot.
"I agreed to play the role of Pioneer Joe, but I was the only one that was going to play him because the thought of getting inside that costume and somebody else having been in there," Sparks said.
While reading the nomination letter a former student wrote, Sparks couldn't hold back the tears because he said while he influences his students they touch his heart every day.
"I'm an incredibly blessed man," Sparks said. "Every day I get to wake up and come to this high school, work with these students. It makes my day."
Sparks said while the teaching profession isn't easy, it's his students that make it worth it.
"The aggravations and the frustrations of the teaching profession sometimes, things that are out of your control, when I close the door of room 37 at Batesville High School, and it's just me and them, that's what keeps me grounded," Sparks said.
As for his future, Sparks said to give him 21 more years as a Batesville Pioneer.