What “Sparked” Alexandra Graham to Choose a Career in Education

Sarah McCliment

Alexandra Graham did not grow up wanting to be a teacher. Growing up in Summerville, South Carolina before attending Winthrop University, she began her college studies majoring in Integrated Marketing Communications before switching to Middle Level Education. It was not at Winthrop where Graham decided she belonged in education, but closer to home at the church where her grandmother preached.

The church held a program for at-risk youth over the summer. Graham’s grandmother expected her to help with the program; however, she did not expect to immediately bond with the students. “All I saw was me,” Graham said. “People thought they were bad kids, but they were just misunderstood.” Graham considers herself a previously misunderstood teenager, so it was easy for her to empathize with what students were going through. She quickly fell in love with working with them and “felt like it was my calling.”

Graham said it was hard for her to watch others fail to make connections with the students. “I became determined to be the person who took the time to build relationships,” she said. By the end of the program, Graham knew she needed to switch her major. She wanted to continue providing a safe space for youth, explaining, “I got into education because I wanted to be there for my people. I want black kids and minority kids to know they can make it.” Graham has now been a teacher for four years, providing a classroom that receives every student who walks through it with open arms.

Graham will begin teaching at Meeting Street Academy this August. You can learn more about her and her journey to teaching below.

 

Who was your most influential teacher in school and why?

Ms. Bowers. She was my 8th grade Math Teacher and she challenged me in ways that I didn’t know I could be challenged. I felt like I went in her room crying every single day, but she worked with me and she promised we would get through it. It made me have respect for those tough teachers. She was influential because I applied that to life. Even if you’re having a bad day, you can put those things away and power through something. Math was my least favorite subject, but it made me a tougher person. Nobody ever thought I would be a teacher, so when I changed my major to education, I wrote a letter to Ms. Bowers. She wrote me a letter back and later came and visited my classroom.

What was your favorite recess activity and why?

I was the queen of Four Square. I’ve tried playing it with the kids at the courtyard, but I don’t have it like I used to.

What was your favorite book growing up?

That’s a hard one. I think I’m going to give you two different answers. I used to hate reading, but the books that made me enjoy reading were Tears of a Tiger and Forged by Fire by Sharon Draper. I also loved Harry Potter. It was a big deal when Twilight came out, but Harry Potter was it for me. I remember going to Books-A-Million and you got to stay overnight to get your book.

What school lunch did you look forward to?

The smiley face French fries!

What advice would you give your elementary self?

Manners take you a long way and the little drama in middle school does not matter because you won’t see those people again.

Favorite subject in school?

Social Studies, wait no. Let’s change that to English. It started off being one of those subjects that I did not like, but I excelled in it. I liked reading things that I wasn’t exposed to before. It was like I was taking a trip with dead people.

What made you choose your alma mater?

I chose Winthrop University because it was in state, but far enough away from home. I also liked that it had a private school feel. The reason I stayed at Winthrop is because of my family and my younger sister. I was the first one to go to college and be able to finish it. My little sister is 11 years younger than me and I wanted to finally break that cycle. I had a feeling if I could show I could do it, then they could do it. There were some days when I wanted to leave, but I knew I could be that example and turning point in my family.

Favorite memory of your student teaching experience?

I don’t think it’s a memory. Student teaching is tough. What I’m glad Winthrop did for me is they placed me in a well affluent school and I had the opportunity to see what type of problems they have there. My second semester I was placed at a Title I school. The Title I school was more of what I grew up with. It was great to have both perspectives and see that kids are still kids, regardless of their situation. They are still experiencing the same things. It was a very eye opening and humbling experience. Every school has their problems. You’re never going to walk into a perfect school. Kids are still kids.

Where were you when you received your offer to teach with Meeting Street Schools?
What’s crazy is about that is that I was at the school I am teaching at now. It was during my planning period and I slammed my screen down and restarted my computer because there was no way I was reading that email correctly. I just started to cry. Looking back at it, it was like a TV moment. The school I worked at was hopeful for me to obtain the position, so I got to share that joy. It was awesome.

What’s the first item on your Charleston bucket list?

I want to act like I’m a tourist one day in Charleston and walk around downtown and ask where Marion Square is and stay in a hotel downtown. And ask questions like, “You know where I can find a good crab cake? Where’s the beach at?”

Since you’re a teacher, what’s your Starbucks order?

A Caramel Macchiato with three shots of espresso. Sometimes I like java chips in there.

What piece of advice would you give to those trying to decide if a career in education is right for them?

That education and teaching is not about knowing all the right answers. It is more about wanting to help people. I call them little humans. It’s about helping little humans develop into functioning adults. It’s about developing the people you want to see take care of society. I think a lot of people think that teaching is just about test scores and getting all As. How I see it is if I can’t get you an A in math, I can at least help you shake a hand and learn how to be a functioning adult.

 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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