Gracie Grant recognized something important early in life: Education is the key to a better future.
“Growing up, I came from a fairly low socio-economic status household, so I always saw education as a path to opportunities I would not have had access to otherwise,” she said.
It’s not enough that she has found that path for herself. She’s now working to blaze those trails for others.
Grant, who is a member of the 2020 class of the Master of Arts in Teaching program, has been named the School’s Student Teacher of the Year. Grant was selected from among nominations made by School of Education faculty, students and staff. She goes on to compete for the North Carolina Association for Colleges of Teacher Educators’ statewide Student Teacher of the Year award.
Grant grew up in New Jersey before moving to North Carolina after middle school. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Carolina in 2019, majoring in English, graduating with honors, and in linguistics, with a minor in social and economic justice. She plans to teach high school English after completing the MAT program this summer.
Kristin Papoi, director of the MAT program, said Grant has a passion for education and helping her students, combined with commitment to helping under-privileged students overcome the obstacles they face in school and in their communities.
“Gracie brings to her teaching practice an openness and enthusiasm for building relationships with her students and colleagues, which speak volumes towards her value of teaching for social justice,” Papoi said. “Her undergraduate research to understand the inequities of schooling in the U.S. related to federal No Child Left Behind legislation deeply informed her success in her student teaching practice in the MAT.”
During her student teaching internship, Grant worked deliberately to involve students in classroom discussions who otherwise often appeared disengaged.
In her personal statement included in her nomination packet, Grant said: “As someone with a diverse background, I understand the importance of teenagers having tough critical conversations about topics such as race, gender, and social class as a means of building empathy and understanding.
“Therefore, as an educator, I seek to find ways to engage in these types of conversations with students without alienating students and unintentionally putting pressure on groups of students to act as ‘representatives’ for their entire social grouping.”
In her literature class, she led activities in which she invited students to explore and then to celebrate their diverse backgrounds. In one of the activities she asked students to use the image of an iceberg to list personal traits and characteristics that are readily apparent and others that are more hidden.
“While students were hesitant at first, by the end of the activity, many were pleasantly surprised to find out that they are much more diverse than they previously thought, and many were eager to share their identity icebergs with their classmates to discuss similarities and differences,” Grant said in her statement.
“This experience was enriching for both myself and my students because I was able to deepen my commitment to accessing diversity in the classroom, and students were able to develop an understanding of the importance of engaging with diverse works.”
Grant said she learned valuable lessons from the MAT courses, but also from the
other students in the program.
“The other members of the MAT cohort are some of the most passionate and forward-thinking educators I’ve met,” she said. “So, getting to be a member of this cohort has been amazing.”
She said the MAT program taught her that teaching is intended to be an invigorating and creative experience.
“Some of the things I’ve learned in the MAT program that will serve me well in the future are to always be adaptable and to not be afraid to take risks in the classroom,” she said. “Adaptability is one of the most important skills a teacher can have and through experiences like student teaching and experiential learning, I’ve been able to become a very adaptable teacher.”
Finalists for the NCACTE award are expected to be announced in August, with the winner to be announced at the association’s annual meeting in the fall.