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The science and art of teaching

Audrey Claravall (M.Ed. ’12) on a life of meaning

Claravall, Graduation Day 2012

Claravall on Graduation Day 2012

Many college grads don't land their "dream job" right out of the gate. They might have one or two jobs - maybe more - before they discover the right fit.

For Audrey Claravall (M.Ed. ‘12), the "right fit" involved a career shift toward a more meaningful life.

After earning her undergraduate degree in communications at Virginia Tech, Claravall worked for a while at the Goddard School in Henrico County, Va. She liked working with children, but she decided to try sales. While she succeeded in her new position, she found that something was missing.

“Sales wasn’t fun. It wasn’t meaningful. I couldn’t see doing that myself,” she said. “Then I thought back to the Goddard School. That’s when I was the happiest – when I was working with kids.”

As that became clear, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in education. She considered several master’s programs, but one was at the top of her list from the beginning: Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education (VCU SOE).

“The reputation of VCU’s teacher preparation programs was amazing, so I was primarily interested in going there,” she said. Once classes started, one of the first things that struck her was the quality of the professors.

“The VCU School of Education taught me all about the technical, scientific side of teaching, but it also taught me the heart and art of teaching.”

“They taught us in ways that showed us how we should be teaching our kids,” she said. “If you want your students to be engaged, you need to make it interesting. You need to make it hands-on. It wasn’t even like I was in school anymore. It was fun!”

After earning her Master of Teaching in Early and Elementary Education, Claravall began teaching at Sandston Elementary School in Henrico County, Va. She taught second grade for two years, and then moved to first grade. She kept in touch with her friends who attended other schools. Comparing the differences, Claravall said, has led to a greater appreciation of her VCU experience.

“Talking to some of them, I think that VCU prepared me a lot better,” she said. That preparation included lots of time spent in elementary school classrooms from the very beginning of the program. So much so, that when she finally started student teaching, Claravall already felt comfortable with it.

From left: Dr. Valerie Robnolt, associate professor, Teaching and Learning, and Claravall on Graduation Day 2012.

From left: Dr. Valerie Robnolt, associate professor, Teaching and Learning, and Claravall on Graduation Day 2012.

“I had already been in the classroom. I had worked with kids from different schools, in a lot of different populations. It made it easier to make the transition to full-time teacher,” she said.

Today, she applies what she learned at VCU to the way she teaches her students.

“I give them the responsibility to be accountable for what they’re learning,” she said. For example, when her students show an interest in the environment, she doesn’t tell them to start a recycling program. Instead, she asks them, “If we want to take care of our environment, what can we do at our school?” She encourages them to answer the question themselves, making learning more fun while making an impact on the world.

Claravall and other teachers at Sandston Elementary have found more ways to connect with their students and keep them engaged. One is the daily morning meeting, where the teacher sets time aside with students to help them set goals for the day, as well as solve problems, share exciting news, and really get to know each other.

Claravall noticed that once she started spending time getting to know her students, their performance improved overall and teaching got a little easier. Students began to realize that she cared about them as people, and cared about what they were going through at home.

“VCU does a really good job of teaching you the technical side of teaching – the reading methods and theories,” Claravall said. “But I had the greatest professors at VCU who also told us about their experiences as teachers. The stories they shared taught us to never forget that our students are people. They are still children. And sometimes, they just need a cheerleader in their corner.”

See what new animal Claravall's first grade class learned about in this streaming video from Henrico County Public Schools. (TRT: 19:56)