Educator Spotlight: Cory Jones, an Optimist for Virtual Learning Opportunity


Educator | 5th Grade Teacher
Berclair Elementary

Q1: CORY JONES, Tell us your background and where you’re from.

I’m a native Memphian. I was born in the South Memphis project housing unit known as Foote Homes. I was raised in the Westwood area where I graduated from Mitchell High School. I attended Southwest Tennessee Community College where I earned my Associate of Psychology. From there, I went to Victory University (formerly Crichton College) but later transferred to the University of Memphis after the school closed suddenly. There, I earned my Bachelor of Psychology degree. I recently earned my Master of Urban Education from Union University’s Memphis Teacher Residency (MTR) Program. I am a first-generation college student. I’m married to my beautiful wife, Dominique. We are two and a half years in and counting. My goal is to provide equal education to Memphis and the Mid-South through teaching, mentoring, and quality youth development programming.

Q2: You've just finished your "Residency Year" with MTR, tell us how you got to MTR...and why teaching?

Interesting story: I applied to MTR back in 2016 while I was still earning my Bachelor of Psychology at the University of Memphis. I made it to the interview stage, which is the final stage in the process before selection, but I was not accepted. So, after graduating, I worked at Youth Villages as a Teacher Counselor and Teacher Assistant. There, I was responsible for supervising youth with aggressive and problematic sexual behaviors. I loved my job and the youth that I worked with, but it came at a high physical cost. After one year on the job, I developed a herniated disk in my lower back which sent me home so long I had to separate from the company. That was difficult. It was my first job out of college.

During this time, I was too ashamed to stay home all day while my wife worked, so I told her, when you leave for work, I leave for work. I made finding a job my full-time job. So every day, I would go to Chick-Fil-A in Germantown and set-up shop in the corner booth. I frequented the place so much, the staff called it my “office.” I was looking for jobs that would allow me to do what I love, youth development. I found only one opening and that was with a previous employer, the YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South, as the Youth Counselor and Coordinator for the YMCA Youth Achievers. There, I brought intervention based life skills programming to partnering schools in the Whitehaven and Westwood community targeting at-risk youth. However, after about a month in this position, my car broke down. The position required me to move around from school to school; a requirement that I was no longer able to meet. Therefore, my supervisor requested my resignation. I did not want the program to suffer, so I agreed.

So there I was a month later, back at Chick-Fil-A, looking and praying for a job that allowed me to use my gifts. Then, one day as I was watching the news, I saw David Montague, the Executive Director of MTR on the screen with Bill Haslam. This put the program back on my radar. I soon after re-applied to MTR. The process was just as rigorous as before, but this time I had nothing but time. I applied and was accepted. There was no way I would have had time to do this while working in my previous positions. It felt like I was being set aside for something specific. Teaching even.  

Q3: SCS announced [Monday] they'll be opening virtually August 31st, how does this pivot make you feel about the upcoming school year?

This was exciting news. I believe we are in a place in history where we are forced to do things differently. Last time I checked, that’s when growth happens. Teachers will be able to acquire and use new skills and resources that traditional school would not allot. I believe education in Memphis is in the middle of a gold rush as incoming teachers pioneer the new virtual wave which may very well become a permanent fixture in our time. This is uncomfortable for some because we are now forced to stretch even further outside of our comfort zone to serve our youth in a new way. Our kids, however, are raised in a digital age. According to Common Sense Media, kids use screens over eight hours a day. They are ready for this. It’s time we catch up with their learning modalities.

Q4: How does it feel to receive the distinction as MTR Resident of the Year?

This was a complete shocker. This honor came at a time when I really needed a win. I had lost my father to lung cancer during my residency year. If it were not for the support of my wife, church family, mentor, coach, MTR staff, and other MTR graduates this would not have been possible. So shout-outs to the team!

Q5: Describe your last year that obviously included the initial shutdown due to Covid-19?

It was the hardest year of my life. However, I felt equipped for it. For example, I was a Victory University student when the college announced its closing back in the spring of 2014. I was a full-tuition Trinity Honors scholar and a student employee (tutor). That year, I lost my scholarship, school, and my job. This year, I lost a parent lung cancer and had life come to a screeching halt due to COVID-19. No graduation, no promotion for my students, and no summer job! However, I have learned that adversity is an opportunity disguised as a problem. This year has taken its toll, but there are still several months remaining! With a growth mindset, we can use this year as a foundation for a better future for the students in our great city.  

Q6: Where and what will you be teaching this school year? What are you excited about for this first year of teaching?

This year, I will be teaching 5th-grade Math and Science at Berclair Elementary. I’m excited that this first year of teaching will be like none other. There are no experts on the topic of teaching under these circumstances; we are the experts in the making. This is history in the making, and we (educators) are holding the pens. 

To learn more about MTR’s Residency Program, visit here.