Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: Korri Cunningham (AL '23)

July 9, 2024

From an early age, Korri Cunningham grew up believing educators were superheroes who inspired her love for learning. Now, a teacher herself, she recalls the first year her own students made her feel the same. As her school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) coordinator, Cunningham builds strong relationships with her students and inspires a curiosity for learning about diverse global experiences. Korri received a 2023-24 Alabama Milken Educator Award in Birmingham on October 25, 2023.

Milken Family Foundation: How have students responded since your Milken Educator Award surprise?

Korri Cunningham (AL '23): Students are still excited since my Milken Educator Award surprise. I got cheers and applause every time I walked down the hall or into a classroom for about an entire week after I received it. If they didn’t know me before my award, they definitely know me now. The question I often get from them is, “How did you spend your money?” My former students are very excited for me as well. I’ve gotten tons of congratulatory phone calls and text messages from them. 

MFF: Who are your role models as an educator?

Cunningham: As an educator, my role models are all the other teachers in classrooms worldwide. Educators have the most important and most difficult job out there. It’s a job with so many requirements and oftentimes too few rewards. Teaching is not for the faint of heart. My kindergarten experience shaped who I am as an educator. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Vanhooser, had such an impact on my life as a 5-year-old. I thought she was Superwoman because it seemed like she could do everything, and she did it with a smile. I remember wanting to be just like her when I grew up. She instilled a natural love for learning in me, and I am forever grateful for the things she taught me and the way she cared for every student as if we were her own.  

MFF: Tell us about your first year of teaching. 

Cunningham: Reflecting, my first year of teaching may have gone well in the eyes of others, but I was truly lost! I look back at some of my old lesson plans and wonder what in the world I was teaching! One thing that does stand out to me is the relationships I built with my students. They are the ones who truly helped me through my first year. My first class of students made me feel like I was the greatest teacher in the world. I know reading isn’t always a favorite subject, so I strived to make everything relatable and applicable to their own lives. Another thing that stands out is assigning my students an analytical essay and receiving the complete opposite. That taught me about the importance of modeling and explicit instruction. Those students are graduating from college this year, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. I’ve received many invitations and graduation announcements, confirming that I chose the right profession.  

MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?

Cunningham:I hope my students remember that a good book will take them anywhere they want to go. I have a natural love for reading, and every year I strive to instill that natural love for reading in my students.  

MFF: You've brought your experience as an ELA teacher to your role as International Baccalaureate (IB) Coordinator, empowering students to explore a range of cultures and principles as they analyze classic novels and short stories in IB curriculum portfolio projects. Can you tell us more about how the IB curriculum has enhanced student learning at Phillips Academy? 

Cunningham: The IB curriculum has enhanced student learning at Phillips Academy in many ways. Our vision as an IB school is to expose our students to a diverse real-world learning experience in a global society.​ Our teachers take a student-centered, inquiry-based approach to everything they teach. Our students can direct their own learning path and make connections between the concepts taught in their classrooms and the real world. They are problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and lifelong learners who leave our school ready to create a better world.  

MFF: What advice would you share with people who are interested in becoming teachers?

Cunningham: No one gets into teaching for the fame and fortune. Teaching is a lifetime commitment, so you must always remember YOUR WHY. Every day won’t be easy or enjoyable, but never losing sight of your true purpose will keep you going.  

Watch our interview with Korri Cunningham (AL '23) on the day of her Milken Award notification: 


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