WARRENVILLE — This month marks the three-year anniversary of Latoya McGriff’s 2016 crippling car crash. After two years of recovery, she’s excited to be back in the classroom, and is reaching beyond the classroom with Facebook Live.
“I love being a teacher; there’s nothing else in this world,” McGriff said. “It gives me chills just thinking about it. Everyday I am excited about coming to work, and giving my kids my all. It makes me so happy to know that what I put in them, is what they will show the world some day.”
Ms. McGriff – as she is known by her young students – has been teaching for eight years; however, she took two years off to recover from the car accident. She has had six surgeries on her ankle. Her foot was detached from her leg. Her doctors suggested amputating it to help relieve her from the pain, but that was not an option for her.
“When I couldn’t drive, my mom would bring me to the school to see my students,” McGriff said. “I was very depressed when I wasn’t at school. Being in the classroom is my happy place.”
Although she has learned to walk again, she still teaches her kindergarten class with a limp.
“She comes to work every morning practically in pain, but she has that smile on her face,” teacher assistant Jennifer Sequeira said. “She never complains about her pain. I’ve even seen her crying. I’ve seen actual tears, but she is still smiling.”
McGriff’s students have coined her the “Unicorn Teacher.” Although she personally doesn’t like unicorns, she says Ms. McGriff the teacher likes unicorns. McGriff stresses the importance of finding what her students like and meeting them there.
“Last year, I would teach in a unicorn headband,” McGriff said. “When I would light it up, that meant it’s my time to shine. I’m giving you knowledge. It really got my kid's attention.”
McGriff is constantly searching for creative ways to keep her students' attention. While cleaning in class, she sings; and while teaching in class, she spells out words like a cheerleader.
Last year, a friend shared a Facebook link with McGriff about a principal in California who was reading bedtime stories through Facebook Live to her students while dressed in pajamas. McGriff later adopted the idea for her students. She began dressing like a unicorn and reading bedtime stories in an effort to connect with her students through the social media application.
“Story Time with Ms. McGriff is magical,” McGriff said. “You never know what I’m going to do. Last week, since it was Halloween, I dressed up like a witch and read in a witch voice. My kids really loved it.”
Even though McGriff's Facebook Live broadcast is geared toward her students, parents, co-workers, past students and even her principal tune in.
“I love it,” said Charlene Heard, principal at Warrenville Elementary School. “I watch it every single week. You can see the parents commenting, ‘I’m here.’ Then Ms. McGriff acknowledges every child, specifically by name. You can see her passion while she’s reading. I think it’s a great opportunity to connect with families within our community, as well as families outside of our community.”
McGriff is not only reaching the community through Facebook Live. Her teacher assistant rattled off a list of all the activities she takes part in for her students.
“I have seen her buy families groceries, she’s paid light bills for her student’s family before, bought them clothes, goes to their ball games, she gives them rides from school or to school, goes to their birthday parties, their competitions, she does tutoring for these kids after school, she babysits for some of them,” Sequeira said. “She doesn’t do any of these things for a pat on the back. A lot of these things, people don’t even know about.”
McGriff describes her hope for her Facebook Live story time.
“It’s a way for me to give moms a break because moms do so much," McGriff said. "They might forget about reading a story with their kid because their days are so long. And so I want to be able to give moms a break so that they can just go outside and look at the stars if they want to."
She also plans to use the platform to help parents teach their children to be better readers and writers.
“It’s an opportunity for me to teach parents how to ask questions throughout stories,” McGriff said. “The parents are their child’s first teacher. For example, if I’m teaching my kids about CVC words. If a parent doesn’t understand what that is, they may not be able to help their student. Parents need to know what to do to prepare their kids, and we teachers can help with that. That is my hope for Story Time with Ms. McGriff."
It’s not all rainbows and unicorns for McGriff on Facebook Live. She explains what she does when she has technical difficulties on Facebook.
“Sometimes my feed gets cut off," McGriff said. "But if it gets cut off, I always come back. Because I teach my kids that we have challenges, but we can defeat challenges, so unicorns don’t give up.”
Tune in to Story Time with Ms. McGriff on Tuesdays at 7:45 p.m. on Facebook.