From sensei to band teacher, Dr. Dré Graham has dedicated his career to helping students become the best versions of themselves.
In high school, Graham grew a passion for music. His senior year, he received the Most Likely to be a Band Director Award by one of his teachers. Although he excelled in band, he decided he wanted to pursue anesthesiology at the University of Florida and double-majored in microbiology and music education.
During his third year at UF, he realized everything he did outside of school revolved around teaching music. He was a choral director at Gainesville High School, helped lead the band and orchestra at Lincoln Middle School and taught drums at Duval Elementary. Aside from music, he was also working as a sensei and taught martial arts.
At one martial arts competition, his student landed a move he never thought he could do. Afterward, he ran to Graham and embraced him with tears in his eyes and thanked him. Taken aback, Graham questioned why he was thanking him. All he provided him was an opportunity to feel encouraged and supported in accomplishing a dream of his.
“That’s when I realized my purpose, my passion, my responsibility, ultimately, when I look back as an older person, my ministry is to educate, it’s to teach.”
Soon after his realization, Graham dropped out of the microbiology program and pursued a full degree in music education. In 2009, he graduated with his master’s degree in music education. That summer, he became the Director of Instrumental Studies at the School District of Hillsborough County for 10 years.
In 2019, Graham was chosen as Florida’s teacher of the year for 2020. He made a goal to visit all 74 districts in the state.
“As teacher of the year, your job is not for you to be celebrated, your job is to celebrate others who are doing incredible things around the state.”
On March 4, Graham completed his goal of visiting all the districts in Florida, a week before the COVID-19 lockdown began. In that same month, he was asked to take over as Executive Director of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education.
“Now, it’s my time to try and help other young students really realize and become the best versions of themselves by advocating and changing a system so that it works to benefit all students regardless of color, creed, religion, ethnicity, I mean you name it.”
Graham said that the biggest problem with education is a society not valuing education. A teacher’s job is to help students reach success. He believes that if every teacher could provide a passion and enjoyment of education, it could change the landscape of the entire world.
“Education is a human right. As the most sentient beings on the planet, we should be afforded an opportunity to grow into the best version of ourselves, and it’s our jobs as educators to make that happen and to facilitate that.”