After earning a degree in communications, Tiffany Freeman started substitute teaching while looking for work in public relations. She liked it so much that two years later, she earned a degree in special education and teaching. Today, she is a special education teacher at John Rolfe Middle School in Henrico County and recently received that school’s Christie Award for service to children and their families. She is on track to graduate in August 2020 from the VCU School of Education with a Master of Education in Reading, concentration in K-12 reading specialist.
What initially drew you into the field of education?
I didn’t take a direct route right out of college. After earning my undergraduate degree in communications, I was looking for work in public relations. All of the opportunities would have taken me out of Richmond – most likely New York or D.C. – and I didn’t want to do that at the time. So I started substitute teaching to earn money. The schedule was very flexible, and I started meeting lots of people and getting assignments in special education. The people I met kept telling me that I was patient and easy-going, and that they needed more people like that in the field. The longer I taught in special education, the more fun it became. After a while, it didn't feel like work anymore.
Why did you choose VCU SOE to pursue your M.Ed. in Reading?
I entered the program in 2018 through Henrico County, and I was part of the second wave of cohorts that was allowed to pick the university where they met. I narrowed it down to VCU and UVa, but after talking to advisors, VCU was more accommodating. SOE’s Dr. Val Robnolt [associate professor, Department of Teaching and Learning] made it easy to transition into the program.
Do you have any tips for incoming students who might be considering this program?
First, talk to someone who's been through it, whether you’re entering the program straight out of undergraduate school, or working full-time while going back to school, as I was. Most of the people in your program are going through the same things you are. Utilize that support system.
Second, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to finish within a certain timeframe. It’s not a rush; it’s a marathon. Be patient and understanding with yourself. Do your best and use all of those resources available to you.
With COVID-19 and social distancing a reality for all of us, what are your biggest challenges as you prepare for the fall semester?
While a lot of people are thinking about ways to deliver the content, I'm thinking about ways to rebuild connections with my students. Before, you could be right there beside your kids, look in their eyes and feel their emotions in the moment. This year will be more difficult. I felt a little lost this past semester because you never really knew what was happening on the other side of that computer screen.
You recently received the John Rolfe Middle School Christie Award. Explain a little about the award and why you believe you received it.
The Christie Award recognizes a member of Exceptional Education and Support Services whose contribution to HCPS has been exemplary in service of children and their families. It includes special education teachers, related service providers, or support service providers such as school counselors, psychologists and social workers.
I’m very fortunate. I feel like I’ve been groomed to be the teacher that I am since I arrived at John Rolfe. I’ve formed a wonderful professional relationship with my mentor, who is the department chair. I’ve also had people around me here cheering me on to do well since the beginning. Thanks in part to those supports, I’ve never stopped learning and listening. I always want to know more, but not to be better than anyone else. I just want to be knowledgeable so I can stand in front of people and know what I'm talking about. Parents, colleagues and even the principal look to me for answers. I need to be able to respond.