Paige Cameron, CFNN Reporter
As I’ve been writing Teacher of the Week articles for a few months now, in the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted to write about an exceptional teacher for my final “Teacher Feature” of the semester. Now, this teacher isn’t just any ordinary teacher. He can frequently be found blasting music from his classroom so loud you can hear it all the way down the main hallway.
He is also known as the brother of another teacher here at Cape Fear. Most importantly, though, he is known as the teacher everyone wants to have. The final Teacher of the Week for the fall semester is the founder of Cape Fear News Network, Mr. Joe Grates.
When Grates was growing up, becoming a teacher was never what he imagined he would do with his future. Initially, he wanted to get as far away from education as possible due to the pay and several other factors. “I wanted to get a good job. In my youthful stupidity, I considered a good job one where I wore a tie to work and made a lot of money.” Grates said.
Before teaching, he became a “Headhunter,” where he found jobs for people. While he was successful in his career, he didn’t enjoy it. “It felt shady to me sometimes to get people to leave jobs where they are happy and convince them to go somewhere where they might not be as happy.” After 9/11, he was laid off, which forced him to go hunting for a job himself. This led him down the path toward becoming a teacher.
As he always loved English growing up, he knew when he decided to become a teacher that he wanted to teach English. “I love reading, and I love writing. I’ve always had a passion for that. I really enjoy communicating with the written word.” He soon realized, teaching English was his calling in life, regardless of its pay.
Grates first began his teaching career across the river at Cape Fear’s biggest rival, Terry Sanford. He taught there for nine years until he decided to jump ship and come to Cape Fear. Coach Thomas encouraged Grates to come to Cape Fear as the school offered a coaching position where Grates could help transform the football program into what it is today. He says, “The idea of building something new kinda attracted me to come here.”
Currently, Grates is in the midst of his ninth year of teaching at Cape Fear. Over the years, he has been able to transform Cape Fear’s English department. He has done this through teaching courses such as AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. Students who have Coach Grates as a teacher learn how to write arguments and critiques, to comprehend books, and have a little fun while doing it.
For many students, including myself, junior year was the last year for us to have a class with Coach Grates. This devastated several students, so Walker Brittan, Angelina Nicolosi, and Arianna Darden all came together to encourage former principal Lee Spruill to create another class for Coach Grates to teach. Grates gives all the credit to his students for making CFNN possible. “Students who had my class before were interested in taking another class with me, and they tried to figure out a way to make that happen.”
While Grates has done a fantastic job of jumpstarting Cape Fear’s Journalism program, he already has ideas of improving the program for next semester and for years to come. “I want to get more into advertising events, promo type things. I think we can do more fun stuff with video. I want to do more audiovisual stuff with photography. I just want to take it to the next level.”
While his students are doing an excellent job of creating exciting and creative articles, he wants to get more involved with technology and show the community more of what’s happening at Cape Fear High School.
As you can see, Coach Grates has done so much already by forming a news website and bettering the English department here at Cape Fear. However, Coach didn’t gain the title of ‘Coach’ without actually being a coach at Cape Fear. Grates has been a football coach here for nine years as well. Becoming a football coach seemed like an easy decision, as he grew up around football. “I’ve just been around sports all my life. My dad played football in college at West Point, and he coached there. It’s just kinda in my DNA.”
Football has played a significant role in Coach Grates’s life, and he couldn’t be happier living out his passion by teaching English and coaching football. There is so much beauty in coaching, but Grates clearly has a favorite aspect of it. “The impact I have on young men and helping guide them not just athletically, but to prepare them to be successful in life is what keeps me doing it,” he said.
Grates couldn’t be happier with his choice to go into teaching. Although he never envisioned himself as a teacher then, he couldn’t see himself doing anything else now.
“The students I teach are fantastic. I’ve had one or two classes where I dreaded the moment they walk in. But, for the last five years, I’m excited for all my kids to walk in the door, and I’m excited for them to want to walk in my door. That’s something that really makes your day when you know kids want to be here, and they come in smiling, and the music is playing. It’s a great way to spend your day. I love it.”
For many students, who sign up to take one of Coach Grates’ classes, they think they are only going to learn about English; however, that is not the case. Instead, Grates teaches his students lessons about life and leads them on the path to become successful beyond high school. “I just want them to be better people than when they walked in. I want them to know that a lot of the things they worry about now are not going to be a concern in five years. And not to stress over things.”
Coach Grates is a teacher like no other. I couldn’t be more thankful that I was able to have the privilege to experience Grates as a teacher three times. As my time in Grates’ class comes to an end, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for all the life lessons, knowledge, and fun times you gave me. You will always be a teacher I will never forget.