An Interview with Lori Graham


Lori Graham is a first-year graduate student in the English department, and she is working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant teaching CORE 101. We recently had a chance to sit down with Lori to get to know more about her, her teaching style, and her teaching philosophy.

Giving us a little bit of background on her life, Lori said, “I’m actually from the New River Valley. I grew up in Blacksburg near the New River. Moved to Riner, which is still in Montgomery county. So, most of my life I’ve been here. I’m married, I have two kids, my daughter is here in grad school too in social work and my son is in high school. We have a little farm with some pigs and chickens and dogs and cats. And we like to do outdoor stuff. We like to bike and kayak and run.”

After a tour in the military, Lori earned two associate’s degrees at New River Community College, where she also began studying American Sign Language. She later completed her bachelor’s degree in American Sign Language at Sienna Heights University in Michigan.

We asked Lori what would set her classes apart from other CORE classes at the university. She said, “I’ve always loved writing and I know a lot of students don’t. I know they’re somewhat apprehensive about it. So, I just want them to love writing. I don’t want them to be afraid of it and I don’t want them to think that anything they put down is going to be harshly judged because that isn’t the point. The point is sharing your thoughts and then getting them organized to where you can share them with other people. So that’s my goal because that’s what I would want someone to do for me.”

Expanding on her teaching philosophy, Lori said, “I have had the advantage, as a Sign Language interpreter, of working in a lot of K-12 and university classes. I’ve seen a lot of different styles. When I was younger, I probably would have been more, “Sit down and be quiet. Get your phones put away.” Now, I just want them to want to learn and I don’t want to have to be the dictator in the front of the room. I want them to want to learn and not everyone is going to want to do that. But it’s their dime at this point and hopefully they will see the other students participating. I hope that’s the way it will work out.”

Lori said that her best quality as a teacher is that she does her best to relate to her students and to relay the personal knowledge she has acquired during her life. “I would like to think that I have an advantage in being older and being seasoned that I’ve seen the different styles and I know what works and what doesn’t to a point. I still have a lot to learn because I haven’t been the teacher at this level as much. I’m hoping that my age will give me a little bit of an advantage. My biggest concern coming into it, and this is what I put in my entrance essay when I applied, is that I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to understand the pop culture. So, I listen and try and learn and pick up on things so I can understand the sorts of things that students are listening to music-wise or the memes or the technology that’s popular… But I’ve noticed a lot of FRIENDS t-shirts, so I’m not too lost [laughs].”

Lori finished with a piece of advice for her current and future students: “I think the most important thing that I have as a take-away from life is just to not ever settle. If it’s not what your dream was, although there are some dreams that you find just aren’t feasible… if you find something that you’re passionate about, even if it’s difficult or you have barriers, just keep going. Things happen in life, but it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Just keep going and keep doing what you’re doing. I was an interpreter for years and I still want to do that, but this is something I came back to that I’ve always wanted to do.”