Connecticut’s own 2019 Teacher of the Year Sheena Graham was one of four public school educators from around the country interviewed on CBS This Morning about the ongoing challenges of teaching through a pandemic, the added pressures of standardized testing on students, and more.
Graham, a veteran choir teacher at Bridgeport’s Harding High School, spoke candidly about the fear and frustration she and her students have faced and what she believes it will take to overcome those hurdles.
Describing the worries brought on by COVID cases still surging in Connecticut and nationwide, Graham said, “One student said to me, ‘Are you as afraid to be around me as I am to be around you?’ They take in a lot, and if you’ve really built relationships with students, this is a stressful time for them, being near you when they care about you.” Indeed, before teachers were prioritized for vaccines, students expressed great apprehension about bringing COVID into schools and putting their educators and classmates at risk.
As for how we should plan for the upcoming school year, Graham emphasized funding for increased mental health services for students and teachers alike.
“I know a lot of teachers who are broken,” she said. “There were days where I thought, ‘I’m not sure I can hold on.’ If I’m honest, you cry a lot in the car.”
Graham admitted, with a smile, one of the ways she has found to distract herself from the sheer exhaustion of the last year—a way to keep from crying—is to turn up the music in her car.
“This is embarrassing, but I’m going to tell you. If you’ve ever seen the show The Office, one of the characters—Dwight—would go out on sales calls, and he would sit in the car and headbang. This is my first time in my life becoming a headbanger.”
Even better, she adds, “You get those moments when a kid just speaks from the heart and says, ‘You’re making a difference.’ That’s what helps you to hold on.” Watch the entire interview here.
If you have felt the weight of the last year and the worry about what’s next, you are not alone. CEA has free resources to help you cope and to identify and assist students similarly impacted by the pandemic. CEA’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Commission invites you to an in-depth workshop, Trauma Today: Future Strategies for You & Your Students, presented by a clinical psychologist and former Connecticut teacher specializing in trauma. The training takes place on Tuesday, April 27, 6-9 p.m. Register today.
Enrollment is also ongoing for Social and Emotional Learning in Times of Uncertainty and Stress: Research-Based Strategies—led by Dr. Marc Brackett and other experts at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. The course will be open through December 2021, and participants can expect to develop a personalized action plan and receive a certificate of completion authorized by Yale. Learn more.