High school juniors and seniors have been in classrooms for more than a dozen years and have had equally as many teachers. For students in the school division’s Virginia Teachers for Tomorrow (VTFT) classes, those years of experience have informed their class discussions about the profession and qualities of great teachers. But it is their VTFT internships that have given tomorrow’s teachers a unique perspective and newfound appreciation for their teachers today.
To describe their internship revelations, they used words like “hard work” and “rewarding.” They also echoed the thoughts of Nicole Finocchio, a Kellam High School senior, who said, “It’s definitely a lot of lesson planning and work that teachers put in behind the scenes. They don’t always get appreciated because not everyone knows what they do outside of school.”
Finocchio is one of 11 VTFT students we asked to share their lessons learned about teaching.
Isaiah Gifford, a Tallwood High School senior and aspiring art teacher, said that when his VTFT teacher first discussed internships he knew exactly who he wanted to work with – his former English teacher at Brandon Middle School.
“When I had Ms. Baedke – I’m not an English student; I have dyslexia and I struggle a lot in English – she engaged me in wanting to learn more so I wanted to try to learn that style of teaching,” said Gifford.
One can presume his style will emphasize the relationships he has enjoyed as a student.
“I’ve always liked teachers and enjoyed talking to them. I would be the kid staying after class late to talk to the teachers about how their week is going – not mine, theirs – just because I wanted to get to know them. If they’re going to teach me, I have to have a personal connection.”
Gifford said his internship has shown him more of the behind-the-scenes work of teaching. “I knew they met, but I didn’t how often and it’s actually more. There’s more planning in it than I realized as a student.”
Next door to Gifford at Brandon Middle, his Tallwood VTFT classmate Ashlyn Hockman was preparing to teach her first lesson in Adriana Collins’ math class, who is a former Virginia Beach City Public Schools VTFT student herself.
“I’m happy, a little nervous,” said Hockman just before students began to arrive. “I’m really excited for the experience.”
And the students were excited to see Hockman. One ran to give her hug as she arrived to class. Another student wearing a Brandon track jersey stopped by to chat about her upcoming meet.
“I’ve earned a lot of respect for middle school teachers,” said Hockman of her internship experience, which she said has solidified her decision to become a math teacher. “I’ve also learned how to deal with disruptions in the classroom. Just seeing how the teachers interact with the students – ‘Whatever you’re doing doesn’t affect our relationship and I want the best for you’ – still loving the students but making sure that they are disciplined.”
Another revelation Hockman shared: “I’ve learned that you have to be ready and prepared, and to already be thinking, like, 20 steps ahead.” Her cooperating teacher, Collins, chuckled in agreement.
Working to stay ahead of and keep up with first-graders is what was notable to Dakota Hager, a Green Run High School senior, during her internship at Windsor Oaks Elementary School.
“What I’ve learned is that teachers don’t get the recognition they deserve,” said Hager. “You can see how difficult it is for teachers keeping that many little kids quiet and on task and entertaining them. There’s just so much to prepare for little kids. It’s a lot more work than it seems.”
Hager’s VTFT classmate, Kiyah Wise, interned in an eighth-grade physical science class at Larkspur Middle School.
“As a student, you’re just obtaining the knowledge and trying to understand what’s going on. As a teacher, you are responsible for what they’re learning – the impact you create on them. It’s been really rewarding to see the progress over time.”
Seeing the progress of his sixth-grade band students is what Justin Thornton has found rewarding during his internship as a VTFT II student. The band room at Independence Middle School is one the Princess Anne High School senior knows well.
“I literally sat in those exact chairs in the exact same spot they’re in,” said Thornton before one class. “It’s so cool. I never expected it to be so interesting talking with the students and being able to teach them.”
Growing up as the son of a music teacher, Thornton said he was already familiar with the work of teachers.
“I knew teaching was good, but I didn’t realize how rewarding it really was until you step into the classroom. People can tell you, ‘Oh, this is such a good profession and you’re going to have a good time’ – those are just words. Once you get in the classroom and start seeing them learn and make progress, it’s just amazing.”
Thornton also acknowledged what he described as the “tedious” side of teaching.
“There is a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes for teaching that I didn’t realize, such as grading papers, and Ms. Duggan does a lot of fundraising and planning for all the concerts they have.”
Thornton continued, “I think getting this opportunity to see the other side of it – I’m just so thankful for all that teachers have done for me because I didn’t know how much time they put in to make sure our 1.5 hour or 50-minute session goes smoothly.”
Like Thornton, Tara LaRusso’s mom is an educator and someone with whom the Cox High School senior has shared her daily teaching revelations throughout her VTFT internship.
“I definitely have a newfound appreciation for the amount of work that goes into this job,” said LaRusso. “I come home after a day here and say, ‘Oh my gosh, this happened today.’ She’ll say, “Now you see what I’m saying.’ We kind of get to relate a little bit.”
For the fraction lesson she prepared to lead in Karen Callis’ class at John B. Dey Elementary School, LaRusso brought in M&Ms – “just to make it easier for them because fractions are difficult. I remember not understanding it.”
What Joe Sendzik remembers from elementary school is Sarah Sykes, his teacher at Landstown Elementary and the teacher he is interning with as a VTFT student at Landstown High School.
“When I was in Ms. Sykes’ class I always thought she was the greatest teacher and now that I’m in there with her, I see it was true,” said Sendzik. “She’s the best teacher I’ve ever seen in my life. She relates to the kids and makes it more of a family. When I was in her class she felt like a second mom.”
Keonte Porter, a Landstown High School senior like Sendzik, has had a similar experience at Landtown Elementary while interning with his former teacher, James Daub.
“He’s still the same as when I was here eight years ago,” said Porter. “He’s still funny and friendly with all the kids in the class. If you need help, he’ll help you. He’s still the same way – loving to all of the students.”
Both Porter and Sendzik say the VTFT class has encouraged them to consider teaching as a career.
“When I first started taking this class, I was like, maybe – maybe not,” said Porter. “Now that I see how Mr. Daub works with kids when they need help and you love the subject…I’m going to culinary school so I’m thinking maybe I go back and teach culinary in high school – after opening my own restaurant or owning a food truck.”
“In the beginning,” said Sendzik, “I didn’t know if I wanted to teach, but after I’ve done it, I really feel like it’s something for me. Besides the paperwork – I do not like all that paperwork – it’s like you get a new job every day. You don’t know whether the kids are going to come in happy or sad and you have to deal with it, and that’s why I like it.”
Sendzik has his sights set on middle school if he becomes a teacher. “They’re in that stage where they don’t know who they are in life and I want to guide them to become better people.”
On the last day of her internship in Nicole Prater’s class at John B. Dey Elementary, Taylor Schoolar presented superlative awards to recognize each student. The Cox High School junior was inspired to do so after a VTFT assignment asked her to describe how one student had impacted her.
“I didn’t want to pick just one because I love them all,” said Schoolar. “So I decided I would do what made me excited when I was little – the Paper Plate Awards. I took each student and I figured out something unique about them or how they made an impact on me – like, one is Most Likely to Brigthen My Day.”
Standing in front of the class, Schoolar shared kind words about each recipient as she presented that award and others one by one: Small But Mighty. Most Likely to Make Me Laugh. Growing Confidence. Hardest Worker. Mr. Facts. A Friend to Everyone. Life of the Party. Ray of Sunshine. Most Likely to Change the World.
Changing the world is what Schoolar is convinced teachers do.
“I think it’s a very rewarding job and it’s one that can definitely put a smile on your face,” she said. “This internship has made me realize how much work teaching is and how often teachers aren’t recognized for how much work they put it into it – as much as they could be.”
A smile on her face is what Finocchio wears when she walks into Parkway Elementary School for her internship. She said she wanted to intern at the Title I school rather than her former elementary school after volunteering at a summer reading program.
“Parkway is different. A lot of the kids, I think, acknowledge and know how important their education is to them and so they really try hard and care about it a lot more.”
Like other VTFT interns, Finocchio appreciates the personal connections she has made with students.
“What I’ve loved are my relationships with the kids and getting to know them as students and what kinds of activities they do and who their friends are.”
It’s the same kind of relationship the graduating senior has appreciated throughout her time as a student in VBCPS.
“I love when teachers really care about their students. They recognize that education is important but they care about them as people,” Finocchio said. “Teachers who have been that way toward me, I admire and I want to be like them when I become a teacher. When they show you that they care about you as a student, I really appreciate that because you know you are loved and you feel welcome, it makes learning more comfortable. The relationships I have with teachers, it really makes me appreciate them and have a better understanding of their job.”
Kellam High School senior Alexis Kelley remembers the positive relationships she had as a student with Red Mill Elementary School teachers Michelle Young and Gail Stiles and describes herself as “blessed” to be partnered with them for her VTFT internship.
“These incredible women have helped me realize all these years later that I want to be just like them and become a teacher – a teacher who can learn to inspire and build up their kids and a teacher who can find each child’s strengths and encourage them. I want to find a way to bring confidence to them and I want them to know that with hard work they can accomplish anything.”
Making a positive impact on students is what many VTFT students hope to do in classrooms of their own one day.
“I think it’s probably the most rewarding job anyone could get. Just seeing a child understand what you’re telling them and having that aha moment is super rewarding,” said LaRusso.
“I feel like parents and teachers are the one who build children up,” reflected Hager. “Those are the people they see the most and that’s who kids will base their lives off of. It just seems like they’re the ones who shape the future.”