Being chosen for his region’s top educator award could seem like confirmation that 38 years in education was indeed the right path for Johan Cooke – if he hadn’t already found it years before.
A South African native who has worked the past 34 years at Belleville’s Quinte Christian High School, Cooke says he always wanted to do what God called him to, but it was often hard to sort out what exactly that calling was.
Then he started teaching and discovered such a love for students in his heart that he just “knew it had to be coming from God.”
“Even the most difficult kids moved me to love them,” Cooke says, noting this passion has grown over the years to the point where he sees each student as precious in the sight of God and a gift from God.
“I am passionate about seeing students move from practising a form of religion, to finding out how much God loves them and wants to ‘do life’ with them,” Cooke says. “Knowing Jesus is more like falling in love than following a bunch of rules.”
People, including students, parents and colleagues, have evidently been blessed – as the nomination comments for the Sir Mackenzie Bowell Award educator award showed.
“Mr. Cooke has helped guide me in how to lead by sharing personal accounts from his life as a leader,” one student wrote. “I think he deserves this award because more than any teacher he has inspired me to work in life to my highest potential.”
A parent applauded Cooke for staying connected with alumni “in order to encourage them in their lifelong process of learning.”
A colleague noted that Cooke is a man of integrity and authenticity. “He cares deeply for students and goes beyond the call of duty for them.”
He was also lauded for introducing an initiative that brings students to Halifax each year to serve in underprivileged areas.
Cooke retires from Quinte Christian High School this year.
He is looking forward to experiencing a “sabbatical” and also learning more about spiritual direction, he says.
He may also be spending a lot more time at Starbucks.
“One of my greatest joys is meeting our grads at Starbucks for a coffee and asking them the tough questions about faith and life,” says Cooke.
“I so want to see them grow in their love for Christ and going deeper in their relationship with him.
“I could quite happily do this for the rest of my life.”
The Sir Mackenzie Bowell Award has been presented to exceptional educators in Hastings County and Prince Edward County since 1967.
While all nominees were strong candidates this year, June Hagerman with special education services at the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board says the nominations for Cooke identified him as outstanding.
“He is a dedicated administrator, teacher and respected coach, colleague, mentor and friend. Under his leadership, student/community outreach has been a high priority,” she says, adding Cooke is held in high regard by the educational community.