Gifted and Talented

North Carolina Teacher of the Year Makes Lasting Impact  

Teachers are true gifts because they have an uncanny ability to shape students’ lives for the better by making them think freely.  For many teachers, this is why they got into the profession in the first place – and it’s what guides them every day to develop the intellect of tomorrow’s leaders. Keith Coleman (York ’93) has not only followed this logic, he’s lived it and continues to set the example. 

“After spending three years teaching in Pennsylvania and another 21 teaching first, second and third grades, I relocated to North Carolina and attended graduate school while teaching full time before returning to school to get certified to teach English as a Second Language (ESL),” Coleman said. “Because of North Carolina’s growing population of Spanish-speaking residents, there was a huge need for ESL teachers and not enough of them to fill in the gaps. That’s when I saw a real opportunity to make a difference.” 

Through the Carolina Academic Consortium, Coleman received a grant to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He did it while continuing to work full time as a teacher and bartending on the side for extra money. After completing the program, he received a certificate to teach ESL in the state. For anyone making a transition from a traditional classroom to working with a population of students who do not communicate using English, this opportunity would come with its fair share of challenges, but from those lessons came immense opportunities.     

“I am the first and only non-speaking Spanish teacher for Sampson County Schools in in Faison (North Carolina),” Coleman explained. “I primarily work with kindergarten through third grades and Hargrove Elementary school where I teach in a Title I school with at least 86% of students coming from low income families.” 

Coleman is the primary teacher. He shares his classroom with an aide who is bi-lingual. Together, the two teach phonics, alphabet, sound, comprehension and vocabulary. Additionally, Coleman moderates a program called Battle of the Books for fourth and fifth graders using a state-approved reading list.  

“It’s similar to a Scholastic Bowl competition where teams go against each other to read books and work to outsmart each other for prizes,” Coleman said. “I taught some of these kids in years past, so it’s been truly amazing to see how far they have come.” 

As if Coleman’s teaching efforts weren’t enough to have lasting impacts, every Friday, he uses his planning periods to organize Backpack Buddies, a program he and a school guidance counselor developed to provide food for students to take home with them on Fridays. By working local churches and community organizations, Coleman gathers donations that are used to make care packages. 

“For many of my students, the only time they eat is at school, so ensuring proper nutrition and providing needed food for their families is essential,” he said. “When our community is fuller, we can accomplish so much more.”   

When he’s not doing something school related, Coleman stays active with Sole Family, a group dedicated to getting the local community moving through cross-country running. For all his efforts to make his community stronger and better, Coleman was named the 2018 Teacher of the Year for Hargrove Elementary School. The staff nominated and voted for him, and he was required to present a digital portfolio of his work to the school board who also served as the selection committee. This resulted in him becoming the first ESL teacher to be recognized. 

“It was truly remarkable to be honored,” Coleman said. “However, when you love what you do and others see your passion, it makes it that much more rewarding.”