The journey to the classroom

A look into the life of liberal studies majors at Longwood University

Hull Education Center, the Liberal Studies academic building

Longwood University was originally founded in 1839 as the Farmville Female Seminary Association, a school that would prepare women to become teachers. Since then, Longwood has grown drastically and offers many more majors than just teaching, but teaching is still very big today.

Liberal studies is the largest major at Longwood University, bringing in about 15 percent of the university’s student body. The four-year program is designed to educate college students on how to become educators themselves. As a liberal studies major, students can choose from 3 different concentrations: Elementary Education, Elementary + Middle or Special Education. They can also stay an extra year and receive their master’s degree from Longwood once they have completed their undergraduate degree.

384 Elementary, 82 Elem + Middle, 81 SPED, 40 Non-Licensure

This program is designed to make students prepared once they leave Longwood and make them marketable. Allie Perdue, a 2018 Longwood liberal studies graduate, said on the program, “It’s the hardest most grueling thing ever, but you will be well-prepared and marketable coming out.”

As soon as students arrive on campus as a freshman, they will begin their Liberal Studies “track”. Dr. Gena Southall, the director of liberal studies, said that they will first begin taking multiple content classes, such as math, science, history, english and foreign language. They will also take one pedagogy class, which is another name for the education classes. Typically, freshmen will take Education 245: Human Growth & Development.

Gretchen Yoder, a freshman in the liberal studies program, noted that although she is a freshman, the course load can be a lot. As a freshman, you are not too deep into the major yet, but there is still a lot of work associated with each class. Couple that with transitioning to a college lifestyle, and it can be a challenge. Gretchen said, “The course load can be a lot at times, however, if you stay determined and do your work, you can succeed.” She also mentioned that there are a lot of big projects and tests which she gets anxious about, but she tries to stay positive and focused on her dream of becoming a teacher.

While freshman year is considered to be the “easiest” of all years, there are big things looming over students’ heads. They have to start preparing to take the Praxis, a certification exam, before they can be admitted into the Teacher Prep Program, which is how they begin teaching. For Gretchen, she did the “Teachers of Tomorrow” program in high school, so she feels more prepared for the tests and teaching. Gretchen said, “I was in the Teachers of Tomorrow Program in high school, where I interned in a kindergarten class all year. That was what made me realize I wanted to be a teacher.” Despite being in that program, Gretchen does feel that it would be more beneficial for the students to begin having hands-on experiences earlier on in college. Most students do not get to actually be in a classroom until they are almost done with their sophomore year, and if they decide it’s not for them, then they are forced to change their major about halfway through college, which sets them behind.

Once students are a sophomore in the program, things start to become more real. This is the year that they start their Practicum through Education 261, and they will start taking tests to get into the Teacher Prep Program. They begin by starting the year with Education 261, where they will have to go and observe a classroom for 30 hours throughout the semester. Hannah Overstreet, a sophomore in the program, said she was able to get all of hers done early, but it was not always easy. She said, “I suggest getting them done as early as possible. For me it was hard because I do not have a car here, so I had to depend on other people for rides, so it took a little longer than I had hoped.”

Hannah Overstreet on why she wants to become a teacher

Dr. Southall said that they put Practicum in your sophomore year for everyone to get a sense of if they enjoy teaching and want to continue. She said on practicum, “We place it in their sophomore year so that way they have had some experience, but if they end up not liking it then they have time to change their mind and path.” But for Hannah, she does not see herself ever changing her path. Both of her parents were teachers, so she felt it was the natural course for her to take. She loves it, and that is part of what is getting her through studying for the next step, taking the Virginia Communication and Literacy Assessment, and the Praxis.

The Virginia Communication and Literacy Assessment, also known as the VCLA, is another certification test you have to take in order to get into the Teacher Prep Program. Dr. Southall recommends that students take the tests after completing the Practicum, so that way they are admitted into the program as quickly as possible. She said, “The sooner they are in the program, the better. Typically, they are in it by the second semester of their sophomore year or the fall of their junior year.” Hannah, like most sophomores, is preparing to take her tests this month in order to be admitted into the program in the spring.

Once students are admitted into the program, they will go through a series of tests and background checks before they can start teaching. The program is through Canvas, a cloud-based learning management system, and it is their one-stop shop for all things teaching. This will ensure that the students are able to teach and that they meet the necessary qualifications. There are also modules and trainings that they take in order to get their teaching license at the end of the program.

Once students have completed Practicum and they are a junior, they will begin classes that will prepare them to teach the material they have spent all of their time learning. Rachel Hoyt, a junior in the program, said that she finally feels her classes are useful to what she will be doing. She said, “I feel like my general education classes early on were basic, but now I am learning about how to actually teach the material and it’s more beneficial.” All of her classes are labeled as general education classes, but they are now introductory courses into teaching.

Rachel noted that with the addition of learning how to teach the information, comes more tests and projects. She said, “You actually have to really dive into the information and understand it, because there will be questions and you’re the one teaching, so you have to have all the answers.” While in the classes, fellow students act like elementary-aged children learning the information for the first time, to see how effective each lesson is. Rachel said that this can be stressful, and that this year is the most stressful one to date.

One of Rachel’s classes, photo courtesy of Rachel

Junior year is the time when students work on honing- in on their skills before they actually have to go out and teach. Once students become a senior, they are put into Partnership, which is when they will student teach, and then they will have a professional semester, where they are actually teaching by themselves. As soon as that is completed, they are about ready to graduate.

But it’s not as easy at it sounds. If students fall behind in any of their classes or they do not get into Teacher Prep on time, then they will likely have to stay an extra semester to a year, or take 18 credit hours to catch up. Kelsey Bobbitt, a senior in the program, has not started her student teaching yet, so she is a semester behind. Her expected graduation date is May 2019, but she will stay an extra semester to finish her professional semester before officially graduating. She said, “It’s not unusual for students to have to stay an extra semester, but if you’re not prepared to do so then it can become an issue.” In order to stay on time, students must complete around 18 credit hours each semester or take classes in the winter or summer and get into Teacher Prep as soon as possible.

Senior year is also when students start creating lesson plans, grading tests and quizzes and instructing students. They will also do semester-long research and will showcase their work at Longwood’s poster board sessions at the end of the semester. It will be real, hands-on experience as if you were actually teaching a class of your own, to prepare you. Dr. Southall said on Partnership, “It is the hardest semester, but it really prepares you for what you will be doing in the field in the future.” Once students finish, they will receive your license for teaching in the state of Virginia, and they are eligible to go into the field.

Getting a job right out of college can be tough, though. Teachers are in demand, but getting a job right out of college against people will more experience can be a challenge. Allie Perdue received a job offer one month after her graduation in May, but said it was rough. She said, “Finding a job is very competitive, and living on your own in the real world is tough, I wish they would prepare you more, but you get used to it along the way.” Allie also noted that although finding a job was hard, she felt prepared going into it, thanking Longwood for giving her the tools necessary to do well.

Liberal studies is one of the most challenging majors at Longwood University, but it’s rigorous course prepares students for their future careers and anything that comes their way. Each of these students all found that the course load is rough, but manageable, and their passion for teaching is what gets them through each rough assignment and long nights.