1. As a child, you lived in Mexico City and Caracas. How does your own international experience help you relate to Graded students?
First and foremost, I understand what it’s like to grow up as an international kid. After fourth grade, I left the United States, and my life was forever transformed! We lived in Mexico City throughout my fifth- and sixth-grade years, and it was a challenging yet amazing experience. I was immersed in something new after leaving the only country and culture I knew. I attended the American School Foundation, and because of my extroversion and the large population of Mexican students, I became fluent in Spanish before the end of my first year. Then, two weeks into the following school year, I started seventh grade in Caracas. I remember how nervous I was on my first day in a new country and school. I understand the challenges of moving and making new friends in an entirely new culture. Because of that experience, I recognize myself in my students. My own international experience of relocating to a new home and country has given me so much empathy for each their journeys. I hope these students see me as an adult role model who grew up similarly to them. Also, I am the proud holder of an IB diploma! I have it framed and often show it to my students. I have the first-hand experience of writing an extended essay, taking HL and SL courses, and sitting for IB exams. I can tell both parents and students how amazing my education was and how well-equipped I was for college and life as an active citizen and lifelong learner.
2. You earned an MA in educational theater and English education from New York University (NYU). Do you incorporate theater into your lessons?
If you asked my students, I think they would tell you that I frequently put on a bit of a show. Even if it’s simply silly dances or jokes, I bring the energy of a performer to my teaching. I employ role-playing tools and try to pique my students' interests and stimulate their imaginations. I believe that acting as though you are in a work of literature or a historical moment is the best way to grasp content. Talk the talk and walk the walk. Taking on the role of a book's character or a historical figure has a profound effect. I am very sensitive to linguistic sounds. I have students read poems and passages aloud and ask them to pay close attention to the sounds and forms of the words.
3. You have written three novels (adult, young adult, and middle-grade) and several children’s books! Do you intend to write more novels?
Writing is an amazing creative outlet. Everywhere I go, I see story ideas and characters. My writing had to be put on hold during the pandemic, but I have many ideas simmering in my head. I am working on a (half-finished) young adult novel based on the 'Varsity Blues' college admissions scandal. I wasn’t sure where to take it when I left off, but taking a break has allowed some new ideas to float to the surface. I have found that I need a creative outlet in my life where I can let my imagination and storytelling run wild. I think I will always write in some form or another.
4. Which fictional character would you most like to meet in real life?
My son Calvin is named after Calvin O’Keefe, a character in Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel A Wrinkle in Time. (Incidentally, the main character in that novel is also named Meg!) Calvin's character has always captivated me. He wanders into the story, and with a leap of faith, a willingness to say 'yes,' and an open heart becomes an essential character. His vulnerability and courage touched me, and as a result, I named my son after him. If I could meet anyone, I’d like to meet both Calvin and Meg.
5. We hear you play the mandolin. What is your favorite song to play? (We would love to hear a recording of you playing it!)
The mandolin is such an incredible instrument. When I arrived in São Paulo, I already owned a Brazilian mandolin. I traveled to Brazil in 2005 as part of a Case Western Reserve fellowship during my undergraduate years. During the trip, I bought the mandolin and then learned to play it. I love playing some of my all-time favorite songs. Right now, I’m playing a lot of Avett Brothers and bands that could be classified as Americana. My current favorite is "Swept Away."
6. What is the funniest moment you’ve experienced in the classroom?
During my first year as a teacher at Graded, a grade 6 student said, “Ms. Griswold, I gotta admit, about 50% of my notebook is me practicing my signature.” A girl behind him said, “50%? Please. More like 75%.” The boy nodded. “Yeah, that’s about right.” It was such a great moment. It demonstrated my middle schoolers' honesty and earnestness, as well as their ability to take themselves seriously while still finding humor in their daily lives.
7. What do you enjoy doing on the weekends with your husband, David, and your three children?
Recently, we spent a Saturday at Ibirapuera playing, drinking coconut water, and renting a couple of family bikes.
On Sundays, we can often be found strolling down Avenida Paulista. We love people watching, listening to live music, and shopping at the vendors along the sidewalk. We frequently stop at MASP and explore the museum. I love the art, and to keep the kids entertained, I take pictures of them posing as the artworks' subjects. We end our Paulista days with ramen! We love eating all of the amazing food that this city has to offer.
(The masked photos below were taken recently. The others are from pre-pandemic years.)
8. What would students be surprised to find out about you?
Students are often surprised to learn that I speak fluent Spanish. They also might not know that I have a YouTube channel where I post videos about MLA-style citations and grammar. I have one video with 90,000 views, a few with more than 50,000, and a slew more videos with at least 5,000 views. Many people have asked me how much money I make from the channel, and the answer is zero! I don’t allow ads in my videos. Partly because I hate ads, but mostly because I made these videos for my students, not to make money. I have a job I love, and I don’t need 56 cents in ad revenue.
9. What current trends are baffling to you?
I don’t find many trends baffling. I find them amusing more than anything. Trending fidget toys are soothing and satisfying experiences for students. Pop Its color-changing sequins are sparkly and fun. TikTok, in my opinion, is an ingenious way for anyone to make and share amazing content.
10. You currently coach the Eaglets Swim Team. Why did you decide to take on that role?
I swam in elementary and middle school and continued to swim for exercise throughout high school, college, and now adulthood. I am asthmatic, and I come from a family of asthmatics, and swimming has always been our sport. Selfishly, I started coaching swimming before the pandemic because I wanted my son to join the swim team. It worked! But I have stayed on as a coach because I truly enjoy this new challenge. Coaching swimming has some similarities to teaching humanities, but it also presents some interesting new opportunities. I am learning about swim progressions and how to encourage students to reflect on their swimming. I am learning to help students develop motivation and perseverance. I also enjoy coaching a sport that allows me to support and guide students differently: via physical strength and body awareness rather than reading and writing. The added benefit is that I get to meet new students in addition to those whom I work with during the school day. I love hearing swim team members say, “Hi, Coach Griswold!” in the hallways.
11. If you could take the students on a field trip to anywhere in the world, where would you take them?
Every history unit I teach, I think about how amazing it would be to take students to the locations we're studying. When we learn about the Edo period in Japan, I imagine how powerful it would be to travel to Japan with students to see the original paintings and watch a Kabuki performance. When we talk about slavery and its abolition in the United States, I imagine how great it would be to take students to historical sites and museums. But, above all, I would love to take students to Washington, DC. We conclude grade 7 with a project in which students select a person or event that should be remembered and design a memorial. We use the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a case study: Maya Lin, a 21-year-old college student, won the memorial design competition, judged by a blind jury.
12. What do you love most about Graded?
There is so much to love—the incredible scenery with open hallways, beautiful landscaping, and blue sky above. The warm, energetic students are willing to be amazed and inspired. Above all, my colleagues are the most incredible, passionate educators. I don’t think I’ve ever worked in a place with so many smart, caring, hardworking masters of the art of teaching. They inspire me to come to work every day, they help me grow, and they remind me of how meaningful our work is.
13. You teach the middle school journalism elective, and your students publish their writing in The Eagle Eye. What do you value about teaching middle school students about journalism?
I love that the middle school journalism elective encourages students to engage with their surroundings and take the risk to write and publish their work to a wider audience. For much of their academic work, the primary audience is a teacher and maybe their classmates. On the other hand, the journalism elective asks them to consider our school community and the larger world as potential audiences for their words. One key element of the journalism elective is that students are not assigned particular topics to write about but are instead given complete freedom to choose a subject and a perspective. This may sound exciting, but it also produces some anxiety. Students have to find topics worth writing about, conduct research and interviews, and then write a piece. I then work with students on one, two, three, four, or even more drafts. My ultimate goal for the journalism course is to provide students with a writing experience that feels authentic and personal. I hope that they love seeing their names in print as much as I do! I remind them that this is how they will create their digital footprint and online identity as students and future citizens.