She’s On Fire: Sally Graham


Amidst the books in the lit center, English teacher Sally Graham poses for a picture.

By Lucas Rochester, Staff Writer

Roaming the English halls of Niles West High School, one might walk right by Sally Graham without even batting an eye. At first glance, Graham is just another run-of-the-mill high school English teacher. But there is far more to see beyond the shawl around her shoulders and glasses resting upon her nose-bridge.

One of the most interesting aspects of this enigmatic background encompassing her is the bridge that assisted her in crossing over to her passion of English language instruction at Niles West High School; that bridge being Rock ‘N Roll. Graham reflects on her time in the rock band once known as “Flammable Dress.” 

“Music crosses all boundaries of age, gender, etc., and you can pick it up at any time. You can learn when you’re in your 20’s, or 30’s, or even when you’re much older. Music also has a way of bringing people together, it’s a gathering place,” Graham said. 

Graham works in the same department as her husband, as well as in cohorts with social studies teacher, Matthew Weatherington. Graham and Weatherington’s dynamic duo creates quite the spark in their fourth and fifth-period ALCUSH class.

“I appreciate [Sally Graham’s] willingness to collaborate and to take some risks. I think it’s far easier as a teacher to stay in one’s own classroom rather than to combine,” Weatherington said. “She’s also certainly made me a better teacher. She’s seen me with a few things that have failed from time to time, and vice versa. We’ve become a very effective team.”

Graham was passionate about writing from a very young age and originally aspired to write children’s books growing up. Though this dream was innovated over time, writing would serve to play an extremely significant part in the rest of her life. As a teenager, Graham was a hard worker and ended up finishing in the top ten of her class at Streamwood High School.

In college, Graham found a new passion.

“I saw this opportunity to merge literature and poetry into songwriting,” Graham said.

Graham’s mother was a concert pianist, so music played an important role in her upbringing. But it wasn’t until after college that she decided to pursue music more intensely. She began taking classes on singing jazz at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, and it was here that her fate was sealed when two guitarists posted a flyer looking for a singer, and Graham decided to jump in.

From there, more and more musicians joined this group until it became the legendary “Flammable Dress.” Graham was the lead songwriter for the band. Once they won $5,000 towards their recording contract from a contest, the band took flight and ended up dropping two albums afterward.

Of course, when Graham had her children, the band began to peter out, but she still believes it to be one of the most fun and teachable experiences of her life, and it carried over into her professional world as well.

“I felt like as an English teacher, I wanted students to know that music is something you can pick up at any time in your life,” Graham said. “Just because I didn’t play guitar in high school didn’t mean I couldn’t pick it up, you know? Also, I use the same strategies I did in the songwriting process for essays, poems, and even editing other people’s work.”

Graham is a woman whose passion for the English language still burns as bright as the flame of which ignited her old rock band’s metaphorical “Flammable Dress.” She carries this passion on and hopes to instill it inside the hearts of her students as well, and so far, it seems she has done quite a successful job.

Senior Allen Le, a former student from her fourth and fifth-period ALCUSH class, enjoyed her passion and determination within the classroom.

“[Mrs. Graham] is very passionate about the English language and has done a great job passing her teachings down onto us,” Lee said. 

So next time you see Graham making her way down the hallways, don’t let her go through your mind as just another member of the faculty in casual attire. Rather, see her as an adventurous master of the English language, whose dress has always burned bright with a passionate fire for the great number of words just waiting to express the infinitely vast world all around us.