A lifetime of teaching makes sweet memories

Surrounded by books, plays, awards and mementos created by her students—like a clay bust of William Shakespeare or a paper model of the Globe theater—Karen Graves reminisces about her 53-year career as an educator and knows it has been sweet.

Sweet is also how she describes the parents of her students who elected her PTA president and vice president at several schools, the five principals under whom she has worked, and the hundreds of students who have attended her theater classes—for the last 24 years, at William B. Travis Academy for the Academically Talented and Gifted. She was recently recognized at the district’s Salute to Service event for her dedication to Dallas ISD.

“I have seen big changes in Dallas ISD and have loved every place I have been,” Graves said of her time in the district, which began in 1970 when she was hired to teach English, math and theater at the then Pearl C. Anderson Junior High school.

“It was the best thing to happen to me,” Graves said, remembering her experiences at the then segregated school. Graves fondly recalls serving as PTA president as well as attending a holiday celebration with her students at a venue on what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where Ike and Tina Turner were performing, she said. Graves stood out in the audience and was singled out by Tina.

“She was so young back then,” she said. “It was so sweet of her to call me up.”

Although she later spent three years teaching in a Richardson school, Graves is Dallas ISD through and through. She believes in giving students every opportunity to learn, experience new things and develop into young adults who are prepared for the future.

“Children still want discipline to some extent and guidelines,” she said. “But they also want to play a meaningful role in what they do. Even if they don’t play a leading role, they want to feel that what they do—costumes, set building, sound—is important. They want to find what they enjoy and do it.”

Graves, who is retiring at the end of this school year, has taken students on trips to Turkey, Scotland, France, England and other countries to help them expand their horizons and learn from other cultures. She also goes to see her former students’ high school plays and productions, because “they are so sweet.” Next year, she will also be going to football games because one of her current students, Angel R., will be playing in high school.

Angel, who will be attending the School of Science and Engineering at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center, credits Graves’ high expectations and emphasis on participating in theater competitions with his academic success.

“Overall, her class has really helped me with life skills,” he said. “I don’t have stage fright and can do public speaking. I can memorize 30 minutes to an hour of a good monologue. I learned so many new vocabulary words. I am thankful for the opportunities.”

Graves said she is proud of her students and their academic accomplishments, but she is proudest of how they gain the confidence to tackle other challenges.

Although she is retiring to spend more time with her youngest son’s children who live in Arizona and her oldest son’s family closer to home, she is not completely disconnecting from Dallas ISD—she plans to come back after a while as a substitute.

“I’m going to miss interacting with the children every day, but I want to spend time with my grandchildren while they are still young,” she said.

Her advice to younger teachers: “Be good listeners. Get to know your students, their parents, their community, and their situation, not to interfere with their lives, but to be a better teacher to them. Provide structure, but also show appreciation as we learn from each other.”


You may also like