From Kindergarten all the way through college, Viva Davis only had one answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” A teacher. For 16 years, Miss Davis has been living her dream, sharing her love of learning with elementary and middle-school students.
“[Teaching] is my passion. It’s my work of heart, literally,” Miss Davis said.
We are fortunate to witness Miss Davis’ daily passion and dedication to her third-grade students at KIPP Collegiate Elementary school, where some of our City Year Memphis AmeriCorps members currently serve.
She feels particularly drawn to this age group because she enjoys watching the students grow into their personalities. “It’s like the middle. They’re not so dependent now. Independence starts a lot in third grade. Here [at KIPP] our students start to transition to other classes with block schedules and they go from one teacher to the next. It’s also the grade of multiplication,” Miss Davis said with a soft laugh. “It starts in the lower grades, but for some reason it gets really challenging in third grade.”
Growing up, Miss Davis said she had a hunger for learning that continues today and took something special from each of the educators in her life. “I had the best year when I was in third grade. Ironically, Miss Davis was the name of my third-grade teacher,” she said. “I remember all of my other teachers, but there’s something about Miss Davis and that year. I can remember everything about her and that class.”
In many ways, Miss Davis said their teaching styles are very similar. “She was firm and stern with us, but at the same time she was very loving with us. We knew that when she meant business, she meant business.”
Tim Robinson, the City Year Memphis AmeriCorps member who serves in Miss Davis’ classroom, agreed. “To be honest, I think she’s a great teacher because she really loves the students … She doesn’t sugar coat anything, but she makes sure the students understand and learn.”
“One time, a student was being crude. They wanted to leave the classroom, so they were just being disruptive to try to get out,” Tim said. “Miss Davis didn’t want to let them leave, because she knew that’s what they wanted. So, she said, ‘Come sit beside me and listen to the lesson.’” It bothered the student at first, Tim recalled, but at the end of the day, the student calmed down and eventually apologized to Miss Davis for acting out. Then, Miss Davis and the student were able to talk about what had truly been bothering the student.
Teaching, according to Miss Davis, is about letting your students know you’re there for them and that you care. One way she shows her dedication to them is by always seeking to become the best teacher she can be for her students.
“I always wanted to do my very best, be at the very top. If I wasn’t at the top, I always went back and reflected on why—what I can do better next time? Even today, I still do that. Teaching is about reflecting. Every time I teach, I’m always reflecting on who got it, who didn’t, what can I do to make the lesson better?”
Another way Miss Davis said she has been able to become a better teacher is by working with City Year in her classroom. “In all my 16 years of teaching, I’ve never had anyone else in my classroom. I’ve had a few aspiring teachers maybe observe a few lessons, but never anyone who was in my room every day, helping me with my work. It’s a blessing to have an extra set of hands, ears and eyes in my class.”
“I can meet more needs of the kids if it’s more than just me in the classroom,” Miss Davis explained. Together, she and Tim discuss students’ progress and what each student needs to succeed inside and outside the classroom. While she’s teaching, Tim works with small groups of her students who need extra support or may be understanding the lesson at slower pace than their classmates.
“Working with Tim was easy,” Miss Davis said. He shares the same commitment to education and their students. She describes their relationship as peanut butter and jelly. He describes them as two peas in a pod.
Tim said Miss Davis’ passion is contagious. “She actually motivates me to want to continue on the education route as well. She has so much background in education. She’s always there to help me prepare lesson plans and plan a route to go into teaching myself. I take notes on how she teaches.”
At the end of the day, they both know they can rely on each other to help their students succeed. “My hope is that they gain the knowledge and the skills and the content that I pour out to them,” Miss Davis said. I hope that they can look back and have the same view of me that I have of my own third-grade teacher. I hope they remember those moments and hold on to them. Maybe one day one [student] will even look back and they will want to become a teacher because of our time together.”