He was a finalist for world’s best teacher and he’s won national and state awards for theater education. Now Corey Mitchell of Northwest School of the Arts is The Charlotte Post Foundation’s Educator of the Year.
Mitchell welcomes the honor because, he said, “It’s an opportunity to have conversations about the importance of arts education.”
The 48-year-old musical theater instructor will be honored at The Charlotte Post Foundation banquet on October 13 at the Hilton Center City.
“Corey Mitchell has a passion to improve student achievement,” said Gerald Johnson, president of The Charlotte Post Foundation and publisher of The Charlotte Post. “His work and dedication combined with innovative technique and heartfelt inspiration has helped young people find a successful future in creative endeavors.”
Besides musical theater, Mitchell teaches a bit of directing and acting at the arts institution that is part of the magnet program in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
“I teach, I direct, I produce,” Mitchell said, “And I’m a junior psychiatrist and life coach for some of these kids. Every once in a while, I have to be a financier and a cheerleader. ‘Teacher’ is a noble title.”
A childless bachelor, Mitchell conceded, “The students really are my kids.”
His principal, Melody Sears, spoke of Mitchell instilling character. “Corey has this ability to form relationships with students and to extract from them more than they thought they could possibly give.”
Retired Northwest principal Charles LaBorde brought Mitchell on board in 2001 and calls him “One of the best hires I ever made.” LaBorde mentioned Mitchell’s “tough love” approach. “He doesn’t take a lot of excuses,” LaBorde said. “He believes in students maybe more than they do themselves.”
Mitchell teaches about 200 kids a year at Northwest, one of the most racially and socio-economic balanced schools in CMS. “Talent doesn’t have a color,” he said. “I have a number of African-American students who are phenomenally gifted. For the longest time, I was the only African-American male theater teacher at CMS. When the kids don’t see an example, they don’t always see a way. It’s a real honor to be an example.”
He can tick off name after name of his successful students, many African-American, who have acted in big cities in well-known shows such as “The Color Purple” and “Jersey Boys” or who have found success as singers.
Mitchell brushed close to international acclaim in 2017 when he competed with 30,000 teachers worldwide for Global Teacher of the Year. He made the top 50 finalists, but missed out on the $1 million top prize in Dubai at the Global Education Summit.
He has won a Tony, a national award for theater excellence, and has been recognized by the NC Theater Conference as Theater Arts Educator of the Year.
Born in Baltimore and raised in rural Iredell County, Mitchell as a first grader delivered a poem to a PTA audience. The applause hooked him for life. While earning an English degree at UNC-Wilmington, he worked part-time on films and as an actor on cruise ships. He briefly pursued an acting career, then taught school in Wilmington and Burgaw in Pender County, dabbling in theater on the side
Seeking change, he returned to Statesville for a brief stay at a management recruiting firm. He learned Theatre Charlotte was planning a production of one of his favorite musicals, “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.” He auditioned and won a part – and later an acting award from Theatre Charlotte.
Keith Martin, ex-managing director of Charlotte Repertory Theatre, convinced Mitchell not to return to Wilmington but to stay in Charlotte and teach theater. Mitchell used skills he learned as a management recruiter to sell himself to LaBorde at Northwest.
Mitchell kept his ties to Theatre Charlotte, acting there occasionally. He and Theatre Charlotte executive director Ron Law have become fast friends. Mitchell will direct the theater’s production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in February.
“He has a great sense of humor,” Law said of Mitchell, “which I think is so important in tension-filled situations that theater can provide. He’s a good listener. He’s very creative and he’ll push for what he believes in.”
Mitchell said he likes “sort of creating my own pathway.”
When Carol Channing brought her one-woman show “The First 80 Years Are The Hardest” to Charlotte in 2006, Mitchell got her to teach a master class at Northwest. During three hours on campus, she sang “Hello Dolly” with 40 musical theater students.
Is there anything else Mitchell would like to accomplish? “I’ve always wanted to be the artistic director for a theater company,” he mused.