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New MPS Teacher Getting into the “Rhythm” of Teaching Second Grade

Ann-Elise Henzl

With the MPS school year about two-thirds over, we’re checking in again with new La Escuela Fratney teacher Dan Graves.

Graves teaches second grade at the bilingual school in the Riverwest neighborhood. He’s one of hundreds of teachers who began MPS careers in fall, after many veterans retired last spring.

When we last met Graves in November, he was struggling with some aspects of the job – such as teaching all subjects in English and Spanish.

“Everything is having to build background knowledge, and it’s expounded like 100 times, because for three-quarters of the students that I work with, Spanish is their second language,” Graves says.

Other things also were weighing on Graves. His young son was about to have surgery. Report cards were due. And Graves’ teaching certification program meant 20 hours of work each weekend. Today, he says things are looking up.

“Not as overwhelming -- half of my alternative certification program has come to a completion, so I don’t have to write out all of my lesson plans now. I have to do one, and it’s a lot more manageable. I still write out my lesson plans, but its not as step by step by step by step as I would have if I had to write it out and hand it in,” Graves says.

Graves also is finding ways to incorporate his love of nature into the classroom. He used to teach at the Urban Ecology Center. This morning, he’s lecturing about bats, to students sitting around him on the carpet. Graves says he’s had help figuring out how to fit in environmental education.

“I’m really grateful for my co-teachers here at Fratney, for kind of coaching me on how to design a unit like this where you can actually use, like, I guess, my skills, the things that I’m good at. So it takes a lot of planning how you’re going to integrate the standards we need to meet for second grade into those units,” Graves says.

Most importantly, Graves says, he’s seen his work pay off.

“There’s one student in particular, yeah, who’s done a tremendous job, and has made giant leaps. I really care about him because he always tries, he’s like the hardest worker. He’s still a little bit below where he needs to be, but he just tries so hard and I’ve seen him grow so much,” Graves says.

Meanwhile Graves says after a steep learning curve, he’s becoming more comfortable in the job.

“I also think that I’ve kind of caught a rhythm of the type of things that second graders need. You know, at the beginning of the year I was like, just still trying to figure that out, like, what do we know, what do we need to know, how are we going to get there,” Graves says.

While Graves has been settling in, his schedule remains pretty full. He and his wife have three small children. By summer, they’ll also have a new baby. Graves says he’s up for the challenge.

“I can handle just four of my own kids -- it’s a matter of having 18 kids that are not your own,” Graves says.

We’ll check in with Graves again, before the end of the school year.

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.
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