Student Profile: Joey Graham creates “brave spaces” for her students as she lives out her lifelong dream of becoming a schoolteacher

Tuesday, February 22, 2022
Joey Graham

Joey Graham is currently pursuing a Single Subject Teaching Credential in History and Social Sciences and a Master’s of Education in the Teacher Education Program. She graduated from UC Santa Cruz in June of 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies, and a minor in Education. Graham has been passionate about being a teacher since preschool, and became even more certain about her career choice after having an incredibly supportive teacher in her last years of high school. She is committed to creating brave spaces for her students, allowing all histories and stories to be shared and celebrated in her classroom. Graham hopes to be a high school government or civics teacher after completing Gevirtz’s program, and strives to foster important conversations surrounding these topics. She believes that, with the help of her peers, colleagues, faculty, and family, she can become the best teacher for her students.

GGSE: How have your undergraduate degrees in Legal Studies and Education shaped your path toward receiving a Single Subject Teaching Credential and a Master’s of Education?

Graham: My Introduction to Education class, which I took my sophomore year, truly shaped my philosophy and passion for the profession of teaching. We discussed the major issues of inequities and injustice in the education system, watching and discussing powerful documentaries like Precious Knowledge, First to Worst, and The Lottery. The course influenced me to change my original major of Mathematics to Legal Studies, so I could learn more about the different legal systems intertwined in education. The following courses I took made me even more passionate about the Social Sciences and the idea of helping students navigate the world they exist in.

GGSE: Tell us a little bit about how your senior-year teacher in high school influenced you to follow the career path you’re pursuing today.

Graham: Ms. Treanor, who I was very lucky to have both junior and senior year, was an extremely influential role model for who I wanted to be as a professional. She was extremely supportive toward my wanting to be a teacher after college—the way her door was always open for any of her students, before, during, and after school, and the way she talked to students, as if they were individuals rather than just kids. Ms. Treanor was supportive in everything academic, and her ears were also open if a student just needed to vent. I felt comfortable in her classroom; I felt accepted. School is supposedly a safe place for students, but I had a lot of negative experiences with teachers and admin leading up to those years. She made school feel like a safe place again.

GGSE: You’re committed to creating “brave spaces” for your students. What does this mean to you? What kind of elements are needed to form this type of environment?

Graham: I first heard the term “brave space” during a summer course with Jason Duque, and it really stuck with me, especially regarding teaching high schoolers (with a historical context in mind). I want students to feel safe and accepted in the classroom, and I also want to push them to learn new and difficult topics, to gain necessary skills for tough conversation and discourse. I want students to leave my classroom with their minds expanded, aided by the words and tools they need to continue that expansion outside of the classroom. And to do that, one needs to be brave. To cultivate this type of classroom environment, I incorporate untold stories from history—the less Disney version of history— encouraging students to strengthen their argument-building skills and provide relevant evidence to support said arguments. They will surely utilize these skills when they graduate high school, moving on into “the real world.” I teach 11th graders currently, and I want to prepare them for their senior year, a time when life will become extremely real for a lot of them. We will all have to be brave at some point in our lives; I want to help them cultivate this skill in my class.

GGSE: How do you stay grounded and take care of your mental and physical health throughout difficult work weeks?

Graham: Life has been difficult to balance lately since I teach all day then go into three-hour-long classes until 7pm most nights. But I have a great support system around me within my friends and families, and within the faculty within TEP. My roommates and I have been doing barre classes at home for a while, and just recently started doing a boxing class. That's been really helpful to quite literally get the stress out of my body. I Facetime my mom A LOT, especially to get good videos of my cat, who had to stay home in Sacramento while I’m living in graduate housing. It's a rigorous program that can be pretty stressful at times, but I am also doing something I love deeply and actively living my preschool dream of being a teacher—so remembering that usually puts the pep back in my step!