Teacher shares love for educating children

By Madeline Otten, Correspondent

Ever since the age of four, Maria Graff knew she wanted to become a teacher. But before she could start teaching, she worked her very first job as a cashier at McDonald’s, eventually climbing all the way up to shift manager.

After she graduated from James Madison University with a degree in early childhood education, she pursued her passion.
Graff is currently a substitute teacher with Fluvanna County Public Schools (FCPS) for pre-K through seventh grade. She has also had the role of classroom teacher for pre-K and second grade, art teacher, and resource teacher.

“It was not an option,” said Graff. “It has been my life’s calling.”

Graff and her husband, Danny, moved from Long Island, N.Y., to Central Virginia to be closer to both of their families. They made this decision after her husband was discharged from the military.

Before moving to Fluvanna County, Graff started teaching in Charlottesville City Schools in 1987. After teaching there for five years, Graff and her husband moved to Fluvanna County in the summer of 1992 and found their new home halfway between Kents Store and the town of Columbia. Graff then began teaching in Fluvanna in 1994.

“I have always loved children,” said Graff. “I enjoy talking with them, watching them learn, and grow as students and people.”

Teaching runs in Graff’s family. Her brother and his wife, who also live in Fluvanna, are in the teaching profession. Her brother teaches at an alternative school and her sister-in-law works at Carysbrook.

Over the past 14 years of teaching, Graff started to notice some changes inside and outside the classroom, especially in the realm of technology.

“My last year in a regular classroom we did not have email or internet, and each classroom had one, maybe two computers,” said Graff. “It seems like every year there is newer technology, which can be hard to master.”

Graff saw the transition from the overhead projectors that required a clear sheet of flexible material, known as a transparency, to the multimedia projectors that were simply placed on a cart, and then to smart boards within FCPS.

She has also observed the rise in the number of grandparents charged with the care of their grandchildren as well as the rigor of school. On top of that, a major change is that students come with many needs, including academic, social and emotional.

School staff has learned how to work with and help those kids meet their academic goals while also supporting the social and emotional needs of all children.

While teaching might sound frightening for some, Graff enjoys being there for her students. Her favorite subjects to teach are reading and writing because of her love for books and the quality of literature she uses to teach writing. Graff appreciates and loves to watch the growth and change in the writing students produce over the course of a year.

However, there are some struggles that are associated with teaching. For one, Graff’s least favorite subject to teach is math. She joked that she is not good at it herself. She also finds it hard trying to meet all the many different needs of students in one classroom.

But in the end, she finds teaching rewarding.

“My favorite part has to be just spending time with children, having conversations with them, and watching them grow, develop and mature over the years,” said Graff.

In her free time Graff likes to read, spend time with family and friends, volunteer, and attend University of Virginia sporting events. She and her husband had two children who have both graduated from Fluvanna County High School.

Her advice is to travel, since she regrets not traveling more during her summers off. One accomplishment she is proud of was assembling her daughter’s highchair without any help. Before she dies, she said, she wants to become more comfortable with a computer.

The quote Graff connects with the most is, “‘Everybody’s got something,’ meaning, we all have something that we struggle with often on a daily basis,” she said. “Even on my worst day, I try to remember that somebody else has a ‘something’ that is much more challenging than mine.”

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