CLIFTON FORGE — If you’re thinking about becoming a teacher, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College is the best place to start, says Tondalaya VanLear, who not only teaches English and art at the college, but also heads up the school’s Education Program.

VanLear should know. She’s a product of DSLCC herself, and has helped tailor the college’s two-year Associate of Arts and Sciences degree in Education to transfer seamlessly to a four-year school to earn a Bachelor’s Degree and licensure to teach.

“The DSLCC Education program has been growing, and I think a lot of that has to do with a clearer focus on getting students ready to go into the field of education, including what they need to continue their education at a four-year school,” says VanLear.

To that end, two of the foundational courses required for the two-year degree at Dabney, SDV 101 and EDU 200, include time in a classroom, with real-live teachers and real-live students.

SDV 101, “Orientation to Teacher Education,” includes 15 hours of observing a teacher in a classroom. “They’re a fly on the wall,” explains VanLear, “but for a lot of our students, especially if they’re adults, it might be their first time back in a classroom.”

EDU 200, “Introduction to Teaching as a Profession,” includes 45-50 hours of a classroom internship, where DSLCC students are able to assist the teacher with projects or lessons. “They can be interactive in the classroom, with the teacher’s guidance,” says VanLear, “and they get a clear view of the teaching element.”

EDU 200 provides a good introduction to what it’s like to lead a class full of students and prepare them for their transfer college or university student teaching programs. DSLCC students will earn three credits towards their bachelor’s degree.

What that means, says VanLear, is that graduates with a DSLCC two-year degree in education already have those observation and internship hours under their belts when they arrive at James Madison University, Mary Baldwin University, or one of the many four-year schools with which DSLCC has agreements.

Those observation and internship hours, says VanLear, will either cement someone’s goal to go into teaching or show them teaching is not the right choice. Usually, she adds, it’s the former, as those hours are crucial to knowing teaching is the right profession for them.

“In these two education courses, we talk about the struggles, too. They need to know the challenges they will face as demands in education change — they need to be prepared.  I’ve had students say they really did not think about some of the hurdles they would have to face,” she notes. But for most, that knowledge adds to their commitment.

What’s more, the DSLCC education degree is designed such that it can be tailored to fit the requirements that are needed for a particular four-year school. Mary Baldwin, for instance, requires two different science courses for their four-year degree. There’s room in the DSLCC curriculum to fit in those choices, so that DSLCC grads can arrive in transfer as full-fledged juniors, ready for their major.

What VanLear is especially pleased about is that DSLCC seems to be working as a conduit to bring local graduates back home to teach in the local school systems.

“I’ve had several students who have earned our associate’s degree in Education, gone on to complete their bachelor’s degree and gain licensure, and are then hired straight out of college,” she says. “I love that we can help them complete their journey and that they come home to teach. They know our schools and our community, and we need them here.”

VanLear is a DSLCC graduate who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Hollins University and began teaching English  at DSLCC in 1999. She was a non-traditional student who started college classes when her youngest child was in first grade.

In addition to her duties in the education program, she is an associate professor and holds two department chair positions in English and Humanities.

She and her husband, Richard, have three daughters and four grandchildren. Her husband and each of their daughters began their education/career journeys at DSLCC as well.

While VanLear acknowledges the past few months of the pandemic have been a significant challenge, she says, “I think it’s taught us the value of time and the value of teaching.”

Like most educators, she’s been conducting Zoom classes, and while she’d much rather be in a classroom with her students, she notes the technology is not a bad substitute.

“You can have good interaction in Zoom, but there are limitations.  Instead of being able to walk around the room and check on group activities, interacting with students and their ideas, I pop into individual zoom breakout groups to have that conversation,” she notes.

“The learning energy is different. You can still create a sense of all of us being together, but the face-to-face environment offers more connection,” she added. “My students miss that concrete space as well.  I’m just thankful that because of technology, we are still able to interact as a class and accomplish our goals.”

“Teaching is the best profession,” she says. “None of us would be in our jobs, careers, or professions if it wasn’t for teachers. Good education is crucial to our society, so we’re always going to need good teachers.  Being part of that process to help those who want to be in this great profession is an honor and a joy.”

For more information, check the web site at www.dslcc.edu or contact VanLear at 863-2854 or email tvanlear@dslcc.edu.

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Tondalaya VanLear, who teaches English and art at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College and heads up the college’s Education Program, is also a product of the college. The DSLCC graduate who also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Hollins University, has helped tailor DSLCC’s two-year Associate of Arts and Sciences degree in Education to transfer seamlessly to a four-year school to earn a bachelor’s degree and licensure to teach. (DSLCC Photo)