'Service Before Self,' Like My Dad Said

I am now beginning my third year at a school surrounded by students who feel like family.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Today’s Pass The Chalk post features reflections on family from father and daughter corps members Leila (San Antonio '10) and Scott Graham (San Antonio '11) in honor of National Family Week.

Every three years or so, I find myself longing for a change of scenery. I’m certain this is due to all of the moves I made while growing up as a military brat.  My father served 25+ years in the Air Force which taught me the importance of service before self.  It also allowed me to live and travel all around the world. I cherish my experiences in all the places we lived and believe that they provided the absolute best environment for a child to learn.

Every time we relocated, my father would research the surrounding area to determine which school would provide the best education for me and my siblings. Sometimes my father would relocate us an hour away from his job, just so we could attend a quality school. The education I received allowed me to attend the college of my choice, which in turn gave me the opportunity to discover my love of teaching and learning.


A young woman with long straight brown hair in a red track suit smiling beside her father in a green jersey in front of a bookshelf in their house.


Photo courtesy of Leila Graham. 

As part of the teacher certification process through Texas A&M University, I had the opportunity to student-teach at an elementary school that served children from military families. I was able to relate to my students due to our similar upbringings. While I enjoyed this teaching “paradise” filled with eager learners and involved parents, I knew my first classroom would be in a different setting.  

Teach For America provided me with the opportunity to teach in an area with great need. The parents of the children I teach don’t have the opportunity to venture out and locate that special school that’s just right for their child like my father did when I was growing up. I feel like my role as a teacher in an underserved area is to do my part to make my students’ education as meaningful and rewarding as possible. I want to do what I can to teach them the same principles my father taught me.

It wasn’t hard for me to decide if I was going to stay in my placement school beyond my two-year commitment. All I had to do was think about the students who I had the honor of teaching. I am now beginning my third year at a school that feels like home and I’m surrounded by students who feel like family.

Best of all, as the only special education reading intervention teacher on campus, I get to teach the majority of the same students every school year. The timid sixth graders that I taught during my first year are now my towering 8th graders!

I am honored to have had the opportunity to teach them throughout their middle school years. They are “my kids.” I’ve seen them grow up right before my eyes. Luckily, their feeder high school is right across the street from my school. I can’t describe the feeling of having a student return to just say “Hi.” Regardless of what may be going on during a hectic school day, that one simple word, “Hi!” from a former student always puts a smile on my face. It is a gentle reminder that I have an incredible responsibility to my kids to dream big and know they have the potential to accomplish anything they desire!

Leila Graham was born in San Antonio, Texas. Besides living in a few towns across Texas, she has lived in England, Germany, Alaska, and Virginia. She attended Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where she majored in Interdisciplinary Studies.  She is a Special Education Teacher in the San Antonio Independent School District.


Join our diverse force of leaders shaping the course of our nation.