Educating Corey

How a Troubled Student Impacted My Life—and Changed His

This is Corey. Years ago, I was his 4th-grade teacher. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Corey struggled with an alcoholic mother and a dad who really wasn’t a part of his life. They had no money, no support, and he and his older brother had to take care of themselves, his older brother working while in school to try to provide for the family.

When Corey stepped into my classroom every day, he was one big ball of smoke. Everything he wore smelled smoky, and to be honest, he could give two shits about school.

He did everything he could to avoid learning and made it difficult for me to teach and others in the class to learn. I really struggled with him the first few weeks of school. But a simple classroom activity, unrelated to the lessons of the day, presented a chance to learn more about Corey’s situation.

Each day, I held a twenty minute “circle time” after lunch. The class would sit and share either a gratitude, a compliment for someone, or a personal struggle. It was through this circle time that a new story began to emerge about Corey’s struggles.

He was merely trying to survive.

I am so thankful that I took the time in my classroom to incorporate a social curriculum, where we not only focused on positives, like our gratitude but also shared our struggles. We spent valuable classroom time talking about real-life lessons—and not one of my standards was covered during this time. (This is just one reason I believe so strongly in the growth mindset curriculum.)  

If I had not taken the time to build relationships with my students and to teach them a curriculum of both the heart and mind, perhaps I would have missed out on this story that changed my entire teaching career.

I’ve spoken a lot about the impact Corey has had on my teaching career, grab the tissues and watch the whole video now.

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I firmly believe that if we show kids their hearts matter just as much (and probably more) than their minds, they can and will accomplish great things.

I continued to follow and support Corey’s progress after he left my classroom. Because it was in my classroom that he wrote these words on the last day: 

I could not let Corey go because we were his family. So, I found him a “big brother” (really a grandma and grandpa figure) who became an important part of his life, and I, too, stayed in touch with him.

During Corey’s 5th grade year, his mother passed away, and he was sent to the nearby city of Jasper to live with a father he had never really known. He was in a different situation, but it still wasn’t a good one.

At the same time, I happened to become the curriculum director at Jasper. This allowed me to continue to check on his welfare and his academics. And I’m so glad I was there, because I got to see Corey persevere. I watched him conquer his challenges and become a strong and determined student of school and of life. My heart is full of pride for this young man.

Corey graduated from Jasper High School this past weekend, and I’m so happy I was able to celebrate with him. He’s headed to the University of Southern Indiana this fall and will study to become a dental hygienist. He certainly embodies the quote, “Nevertheless, he persisted.”

If ever you, or one of your students, starts to believe there’s no hope, that it’s impossible to accomplish great things in difficult circumstances, I hope you’ll think of Corey’s story. It’s so important that we show and tell our students that they can overcome. And it’s important for teachers to persevere, too, because you never know the impact you’ll have on your students’ lives—or the impact they’ll have on yours.

This is just part of Corey’s story. Watch him tell more about it here.

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