CEA member Sheena Graham, a performing arts and choir teacher at Bridgeport’s Harding High School, has been named Connecticut’s 2019 Teacher of the Year. Along with her colleagues and students gathered in the school’s media center this morning, CEA President Jeff Leake and Vice President Tom Nicholas were on hand to congratulate Graham as the announcement was made to resounding applause.
“Sheena is a truly generous educator who has high expectations for her students and is passionate about reaching each and every one of them,” said Leake. “Her commitment to her students and her willingness to challenge herself represent all that is great in the teaching profession. Sheena instills compassion and empathy, making sure her students understand the need to take care of themselves, one another, and their community.”
Graham, who has begun her 36th year of teaching in Bridgeport, has taught choir, theater, piano, and performing arts at both Harding High School and Central High School. She was chosen from among four finalists, 15 semifinalists, and more than 100 district-level teachers of the year.
CEA’s Nicholas, who was part of the statewide Teacher of the Year selection committee, said, “Sheena epitomizes what a great teacher is. It starts with love for your students and community, along with excellence in your craft and knowledge of your subject area. Sheena goes even further, teaching that compassion and caring are some of the greatest gifts you can give to humanity.”
“My greatest contribution to students today is providing them with opportunities, through music, to discover their passions, develop their voice, create community connections, and see that they have the ability to impact others positively,” said Graham. “Yes, I teach music, but the more important goal for my students is to leave my classroom with positive connections to life.”
The importance Graham places on education has its roots in her family tree. While her grandmother could not attend school, she learned to read and always believed that literacy and education were the foundation for achieving dreams. Graham’s aunt, a teacher, nurtured her desire to be a great educator, and her parents taught her that applying the knowledge she gained through education would always be the most valuable tool she possessed.
“Being selected as Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year is not something I take lightly,” she said. “My career here in Bridgeport has been spent working with some of, I believe, the most talented, creative, resourceful, and dedicated educators in the world. To represent you, along with so many more like you across the state of Connecticut, is truly an honor.”
She spoke to the many challenges teachers face every day in our public schools—issues which CEA has brought before legislators at the State Capitol in recent years—though she acknowledged, “These are heavy topics I will save for another time.” She noted, “Today’s educators continue to be surrounded by issues that must be addressed in order for us to offer students the best education possible, that is equitable. How do we create schools that are safe for students without them resembling prisons? How do we properly budget for education without bankrupting cities? And how do we re-engage our disengaged students?”
Graham’s teaching career also has deep roots in the city of Bridgeport, where she has taught the parents—and in some cases, grandparents—of some of her current students.
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Graham leads a number of extracurricular activities, including running a poetry club; coaching cheerleading, softball, drill team, and dance troupe; and providing free piano lessons and drama classes.
As Connecticut Teacher of the Year, she will serve as a teacher-ambassador for public education, working in an advisory capacity on statewide education issues, serving as a consultant to Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education, and representing Connecticut at national education forums, National State Teacher of the Year Program planning and networking sessions, and meetings of the U.S. Department of Education.