Teacher focuses on student connections


Kayla West

Social studies teacher David Graham focuses his life and career around connection. Whether that be coaching his twin boys soccer team, having a football competition with a student or just sitting down with a student and having a meaningful conversation during his only time off.
Graham has called Rock Bridge home since high school and has taught here from 20 years this fall and his goal is to try and give the same experience to students that his teachers gave to him while he was here.
“My students, they come first above pretty much everything else in the building, that includes building mandates, district mandates and anything related,” Graham who graduated in____ said.
His passion for teaching and [his] students began with coaching. After receiving his degree in marketing education, he went on to coach college soccer. After a while Graham realized this wouldn’t be a long term career, as there are not many available coaching jobs and knew he needed to make a decision about his future. It was then he decided to go back to school and pursue his degree in secondary history and language arts education. A weight was lifted off his shoulders as he began to find his place and secure a more solid foundation.
“I found through coaching my love for working with high school and college age folks,” Graham said.
In addition to teaching, Graham worked as a mentor during the last few years through the college of education at Mizzou. During this time, he saw the bigger picture by being able to see the level of passion not only in new teachers but those mentoring them.
“It was really awesome to work with college kids who wanted to be teachers and work with teachers who were passionate about finding great teachers,” Graham said. “So it became this thing of finding great teachers for our friends at Rock Bridge, our kids here deserve the best teachers.”
Now he is back in the classroom this year. Mentoring has helped him realize the importance of putting his students first. All of the little things throughout the social studies department and building he used to get hung up on doesn’t seem to matter as much once you step back and look at the bigger picture, he said. This perspective has helped him stay true to his goal of always making students his first priority.
“I try to focus not so much on the stuff I teach but on the kids I teach,” Graham said.
Graham strives to keep Rock Bridge the innovative and creative place it was meant to be. Graham and his wife Kerri Graham co-teach Contemporary Issues and Science and Society, a class developed by the Grahams as a way to form connections through subjects as well as making Rock Bridge a place where everyone can find something for them. For David Graham, he knows this the first of many ideas that both he and students have to share.
“Far too often standard based, state based mandates don’t allow teachers to be creative because they focus so much on things that aren’t really that important,” Graham said. “So I hope that we can continue to allow teachers to be able to create and innovate and not put barriers up for classes like contemporary issues and science and society because I think you guys need stuff like that”
David Graham is a mentor to many even Kerri Graham, Mr. Graham’s wife and co-worker, who sees his passion for encouraging kids and helping others grow.
“Mr. Graham is one of the best teachers I know when it comes to really getting to know his students and inspiring them to push boundaries,” Kerri Graham said. “He pushes his colleagues and students to think outside of the box so that we are all better prepared for the unknowns of the future. Graham has been a mentor for me, helping me grow as a teacher. Through the years, I have observed him teach, talked through practical classroom issues, read articles he sends me, and engaged in major philosophical discussions with him. He is an amazing dad, if you ask our boys who spoils them the most, they will always say Daddy. He doesn’t just spoil them, though, he holds them accountable for being responsible young men and is modeling what it means to be a good person. Not only does he spoil our kids, but he spoils me, if I’m having a tough day or week, he’ll surprise me with a little note or a box of my favorite candy. All of these things he has done have a huge impact on who I am.”
Austin Reed, a co-worker and best friend of David Graham attributes what he has learned and the man he is today to him.
“Mr. Graham was my mentor teacher around 15 years ago and when I was at the University of Missouri, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I declared social studies education as my major and David Graham was my assigned mentor,” Austin Reed said. “He was unlike any teacher I ever seen in my years of schooling. He was and still is passionate, fired up, willing to do anything for kids, and I was amazed by his character. I was shaped as young 22 year old watching this guy a few years older than me handle kids, teach kids, interactive kids, encourage kids and empower kids. He taught me I can be reminded the kids in my class are people, they are not numbers, they are real, they have lives, they have struggles and I owe it to them to teach in a way that recognizes their humanity. Having a best friend in the same building as you, it’s just the best thing ever. We still help each other, encourage one another in teaching and in life. It’s cool to have a best friend here with me everyday when I come to work and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the influence of David Graham.”
David Graham values each and everyone of his students as well as his colleagues and strives to grow those relationships whenever he can and doesn’t take this job for granted.
“To find ways just to connect, it’s all about connecting,” he said. “My favorite part is the students and having fun with them and the second favorite part of my job is trying to be creative and innovated the way that rock bridge used to be all of the time. I’m honored that a student would think enough of me to spend 10 minutes just hanging out talking about life.”