Both teachers and students have had to adjust to the new norm of virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NCCU alumna Daija Graves finds herself in a very unique situation as she bears the burden of both.
Graves is a first-year kindergarten teacher at Uplift White Rock Hills Preparatory in Dallas, Texas while also trying to earn her teaching certification and eventual Master’s degree in elementary education at Southern Methodist University. Both of which are done virtually.
“For me, one of the things that I struggle with is me being engaged and trying to stay less distracted, and trying not to feel glazed over when someone is talking for a long time,” said Graves. “I teach kindergarten so the best thing for them to do is to learn through movement or doing different things. I always make sure to include a lot of brain breaks or through instruction when we are in our lessons to let them have opportunities to stand up, do a little movement to help them with engagement, and also at the same time, they’re learning.”
The Charlotte native mentions how her passion for education started when she had her own struggles in high school trying to get into college.
“In high school as a senior, I had so much trouble taking the SAT and ACT and a lot of universities would not accept me,” said Graves. “I couldn’t get into college basically. I had a college advisor at my high school that had some connection to NCCU and that’s how I ended up going off to school.”
Though she graduated with a degree in mass communications, her time spent volunteering at C.C. Spaulding Elementary school only pushed her passion to help the next generation of students.
“Basically, my reason behind going into education is just being able to help push students that come from different backgrounds to find a value in education and better themselves,” explained Graves.
Before graduating from NCCU in 2019, Daija applied for Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that allows students to become educators in any area of the country.
Graves explained that the acceptance process for the organization is very “rigorous” as fewer than 15% of applicants get admitted. After going through a series of interviews and problem-solving tests, Graves would be one of the lucky few to be accepted and assigned to an elementary school in Dallas.
She admitted that being a first-year kindergarten teacher and a student has been challenging especially because of the new learning experience caused by the pandemic.
“It’s definitely difficult to stay focused learning through a computer because I also think that I learn best being in person and being inside of the classroom,” she explained. “From me teaching the whole entire day [until] at 5 o’clock, I’d be on zoom to almost 8 o’clock. So it’s definitely a task to try and stay on task.”
Daija finds her current situation of being both a teacher and student “unique” because she is able to see both sides. She uses her experience as a virtual learner to help her own students in the classroom.
“Patience and repetition” were two of Daija’s keys to being successful as a first-year kindergarten teacher. Despite the challenges, her passion continues to push her on.
“With me working inside of lower elementary, it’s really important for me to try and instill the love for learning, so they don’t ever stop,” said Graves. “When we become adults, we are like ‘I don’t need to learn anymore. I don’t need to do any of this anymore’ but just trying to instill the continuous learning in them. Make them always curious.”
Graves continues to have a curious mindset of her own as she finishes up her final semester this year as a first-year graduate student and elementary school teacher.