During the last academic year, Corey Cole, a sixth grade teacher and team leader at E.P. Roberts Primary School had a new transfer student in his class, who came in reading at a third grade level. Being a teacher who wants his students to leave his classroom with the ability to compete with their peers, Cole worked with that student, who then had a 2.00 grade point average (GPA). By the end of the school year, Cole said that student was reading at a ninth grade level, on the honor roll and had passed all of his Grade Level Assessment Tests (GLAT).
“As a teacher, I’m stern and I demand excellence,” said Cole. “Once the kids are in my care, they have to learn. There’s no time for playing.”
He said that student’s mom thanked him profusely for her child’s success and his progression and improvement.
That student is now in seventh grade at C.H. Reeves Junior School, where he continues to work at the honor roll level, according to Cole.
“I had to check up on him. I couldn’t let him go just like that. I want them to be productive students in society. When they leave my classroom, I want them to be able to compete with their peers,” he explained.
Cole was chosen as E.P. Roberts Primary School’s teacher of the year 2017-2018. He is also the Southeastern District winner, as well as third runner-up at the national level.
Cole, 36, has only been ensconced full-time in the classroom since 2010. Prior to answering his true calling to educate, he was a member of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) for seven years, charged with the task of serving and protecting the country’s borders. He joined the RBDF at 21, having begun studies toward a degree. Going to school simultaneously to fulfill his passion to teach was a difficult undertaking, as he had to go to sea and participate in special duty operations or courses.
He says his lecturers at Omega College, where he pursued a bachelor’s degree in elementary education (K–9) and a teaching certificate, were lenient with him, taking into account his job and the responsibilities that came with it.
But he did it. When he walked away with that degree in hand, Cole said he was thrilled and that his life was about to start all over again, but in a different area.
During his marine days, he said, he always found time to assist students in the Bains and Grants Town community. He also volunteered over a two-year period at the Eva Hilton Primary School. His vacation time, days off and sick days were spent at the school volunteering to teach classes and filling in for teachers who could not attend, as he sought to perfect his teaching craft.
Cole incorporates many teaching styles into his classroom, and is a firm believer that “chalk and talk” does not work in this day and age.
His philosophy is that every child is teachable and no child should be left behind.
“I have to use different strategies — peer work, discussion, group work, field trips, role playing, using persons from the community as resources and technology to play games. I found out by incorporating my content into a game, it’s quicker for a child to retain that information through a game, versus giving them a whole sheet of paper and saying ‘Go home and learn this’,” said Cole.
He has also researched countries that are considered to have the best educational systems to see how the teachers there are getting their students to learn.
“To my surprise, things were done differently, so I had to adjust myself a bit in order to experiment, which enabled me to perfect my craft in teaching.”
He said he has had to find innovative ways to reach students.
“I feel that when teachers are teaching, they should always integrate their lessons into the different subject areas in order for their students to see the broad spectrum of that topic in other areas,” he said.
He also believes teachers should strive to be uplifting at all times.
“If a student comes to your
class low, they should not leave the way they came. They should always leave from your classroom learning something and being elevated. Now, if your students are not learning, ma’am, sir, you have to go and research and find other ways, or seek help from others,” he said.
Wanting all children, not just the students in his classroom, to excel, he goes as far as hosting free tutoring sessions on Saturdays.
“Children from all walks of life and schools come to E.P. Roberts Primary School for tutoring on the weekends. And I’m tutoring kids for free, not only E.P. Roberts students, but children from throughout the Englerston community,” he said.
Cole is also involved in the Fast Forward reading program, where he teaches students basic reading skills and home assistance; he’s the Bahamas National Trust Discovery Club leader; Young Gentleman’s Club leader; and a member of the prefect committee, school safety and discipline committee and the disaster preparedness committee.
Prior to being stationed at E.P. Roberts, Cole taught in Harbour Island for four years and held classes online on the weekends. One year he also taught an all-boys class.
“They came from grade two to grade five, and some were in grade two at age 10. Linda Moultrie-Missick, the principal at that time, saw fit for the idea; she gave them to me, and we made sure that these boys were able to do something. And after those boys left me, they were very good in arithmetic and could recognize and sound their sight words and were also trying to retain. So, with that being said, I do a lot of motivating and encouraging. The parents [are] at home calling them X, Y and Z, but I’m at school telling them they’re going to be the next prime minister, the next teacher, the next doctor and so forth. It was a wonderful experience.”
Cole said he believes Moultrie-Missick put him in charge of that all-boys class because she saw strengths in him that he hadn’t even recognized.
“We know that boys learn and adapt differently from girls. I would teach the boys on the outside. They might not recognize a ruler in the classroom, but if you give them a measuring tape, they know all their inches, centimeters and what have you. With the boys, I did a lot of physical work. I used my surroundings. I put up sight words in the trees and had them climb the trees to pull them down for me … [I did] different things to get the boys learning. And those boys could not read, could not spell their names. I put their names on their foreheads, and the next day their spelling test was to spell their name for me.”
Cole believes it’s the fact that he’s always doing things for students behind the scenes, coupled with the fact that his students have been consistently progressing and passing that were the biggest reasons he was selected teacher of the year.
Being a marine may not have been his calling, but he said he has taken many desired qualities from it into teaching.
“The RBDF has taught me interpersonal skills, leadership, patience, time management, discipline, survival skills and time on task — skills that I impart to my students, because in the not-so-distant future, they are going to be in the workforce,” he said.
This year he has approximately 37 students. He says he took on extra students so that he could help them.
“It  might sound big, but I look at it as a small number, because I try to help as many students as I can,” he said.
Teaching is said to be one of the noblest professions, but the pay is not commensurate with the label. While Cole says he would like more money, due to the high cost of living, he said his reward is when his students can remember what he has taught them, do well on national examinations, think critically, make sound decisions and go on in life to compete locally and internationally for jobs.
He also admits that more male teachers are needed in the profession at the primary level.
“In some schools, the male teachers are normally specialists — music, art, computer, physical education. We need more male classroom teachers to groom our young boys, and to be a role model or father figure for them,” he said.
Cole leaves in January 2018 to pursue a Master of Education in administration and supervision at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
“The master’s is just for me to boost my skills, my craft, and to keep me on the cutting edge in education, because someday in the future, I would want to pursue administrative duties,” said Cole.
In the future, he sees himself still impacting the lives of children. He says it may not be in the classroom, but says that, wherever he is, he will still have the ‘teacher’ in him.
His numerous prizes for teacher of the year and third runner-up in the national competition included $2,000, dinner for two, a basket of goodies, a laptop and projector and a gift certificate to John Bull.