Sheena Graham with students
Words of advice from Connecticut's Teacher of the Year
"Don't be afraid to admit your fears."
December 7th, 2018

Be foolish enough

How did I end up going from a disengaged young student to becoming Connecticut’s 2019 Teacher of the Year? Though I had many great educators, there is one who changed my view of teachers and, in many ways, shaped my philosophy of teaching. 

Sheena Graham with band students

She did not open the file that came with me to her classroom and was just foolish enough to think that children who were disengaged could be re-engaged. She would not ignore me no matter how hard I tried to be invisible. She laughed, she cried, she said she was sorry when she made a mistake, and every once in a while, she told a joke.

She read the poetry I would write on the back of my notebook and admired the pictures I drew instead of playing with my classmates. She reminded me of Doris Day (for those of you old enough to know who that is) and had a genuine smile that lit up the classroom. In some ways, she was just as crazy as we kids were. 

One day, she ran around the room trying to protect the hundreds, maybe thousands, of praying mantises that had hatched while we were on spring vacation.

Her name was Mrs. McGrath, and she was my Superwoman!

Due to the positive influences of that exceptional educator and reinforcement from my family, education has become a gift I get to open every day of the week.

Get the good out of all things

The impact Mrs. McGrath had on me is the type of impact you can have on Connecticut’s students.

I firmly believe that the greatest contribution we give our students today is providing them with opportunities to discover their passions, develop their voices, create community connections, and see that they have the ability to impact others positively. 

I teach music, but the more important goal I have for my students is to leave my classroom with positive life experiences and connections.

Sheena Graham with students reading music

I am 35 years into my teaching career, and like Mrs. McGrath, I still know how to smile and love my students. Reflecting on the fact that education does not take place solely in the classroom, my Aunt Dorothy used to say, “It is demonstrated in how you walk, talk and live." 

"For children to believe that education is going to help them, they must see how it has helped you." 

One of her favorite quotes was from John Ruskin, English essayist: “Every great man is always being helped by everybody, for his gift is to get good out of all things, and all persons.”
To anyone considering the teaching profession today, I suggest you think about the factors that have contributed to your success thus far in life and reflect on the people who were instrumental in those successes—who contributed positively to your development. Those people helped you define your strengths.

Take your journey

Somebody has to lead the generation to come, and that somebody might be you. As a Connecticut educator, I was able to use my strengths of writing music and poetry to complement my teaching style, thus creating a unique educational experience for my students who have performed throughout Fairfield County, the state of CT, and as far away as the White House. 

Have I ever had doubts or fears regarding teaching successfully or failing? Yes, and I’ve found that my students have the same concerns about learning! Don't be afraid to admit them, and then journey together with today’s youth to overcome them.

When students receive the gift of education, educators receive, in return, the best reward of all: the look on their faces that says, “I succeeded,” “I understand,” “I wonder if…”, or, “Can we do it again?” The satisfaction of seeing the student who has gained a new sense of understanding or has successfully completed a given assignment is worth more than words could ever say. My advice to you is this: 

Do not let your image be designed by your inactivity.

Look into programs that allow you to give teaching a try, without making a full commitment. I have never regretted my decision and am truly honored and humbled to be a Connecticut educator.

Take the first step by answering this question: Is teaching right for you?