RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Public Schools celebrated an extraordinary teacher on Friday, Jan. 6 at a surprise assembly. Christal Corey knew she had been named Franklin Military Academy’s 2023 “Teacher of the Year,” but she was in for a surprise when she found out she had also been honored with that title for the entire school district.

All eyes turned to the auditorium’s rear entrance as Corey entered the assembly. Her face glistened with tears of joy and surprise.

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras addressed the auditorium, filled with students, county officials, and Corey’s loved ones.

“I am thrilled to announce that Major Corey is the RPS division wide teacher of the year,” Kamras said.

“They got me good,” Corey laughed. “I knew we had an assembly this morning. I didn’t know what it was about.”

Corey always knew she wanted to grow up to be an excellent teacher. That dream turned to reality as she made her way from Richmond’s Teacher Residency Program to “Teacher of the Year.”

“Teaching is my heart, it’s my passion,” Corey said.

This passion stemmed from generations of educators in her family. Her grandpa, great-grandmother, parents, and other ancestors helped pave the way.

“They were so strong and went through so much and now I’m here,” she said.

She told 8News she plans to use her title to help lead others.

“It’s like a privilege and an honor to even be able to impart that wisdom,” Corey said.

While Corey didn’t expect Friday’s announcement, one of her students, Belen Mejias, said she wasn’t surprised this special teacher earned such prestigious acknowledgement.

“I am like beyond lucky,” Mejias said. “It’s amazing I got to have her as my teacher.”

Mejias reflected on a moment she knew Corey would play a pivotal role in her educational journey.

“She took time out of her day to come help me,” Mejias said. “Then after learning with her for just a little bit, I was able to get it just like that, so she’s really amazing.”

Corey will represent the district in the Region 1 “Teacher of the Year” competition, but it’s not the pride, nor accolades, that inspire her to work hard — it’s her students.

“I love them, and I’d do anything for them that’s why I’m here,” Corey said.