When Erin Brookshier Edmonds worked as a morning reporter for Roanoke’s WSLS 10, there was one aspect of the job she enjoyed the most. “It was just great to go out and meet people in the community and share their stories,” she recalls.
Among her regular pieces were ones that originated from local schools. “We would do a high school football kickoff segment every Friday morning and go to different schools around the region. In addition to the players and the cheerleaders, we’d interview teachers and other students. Those were always just my favorite stories, and once I saw myself gravitating more and more toward that environment, I decided I needed to do something different.”
Edmonds loved broadcast journalism, “but waking up at 3 a.m. every morning to go to work was hard. It became even more difficult once I got married and started having a family.” At the same time, the idea of pursuing a career in education “was something that really began speaking to me – hanging out with the students and being in school every day, the place I loved doing stories.” Her mother, who teaches at Roanoke County’s Glenvar High School (which Edmonds attended), also had a profound influence on her. “That was the lifestyle we grew up with – my mom was off on the days we were off and she was home during the summer. That was something that was always in the back of my mind.”
For Edmonds, the tipping point came after she had to cover a particularly tough story about a house fire. “I called my mom and told her I didn’t want to do this anymore, and that I was interested in teaching.” A crucial potential stumbling block was whether Edmonds would have to go back to college and complete a significant number of undergraduate classes in order to make a career change a reality. Her mom knew of several people who had transitioned into teaching and suggested that she reach out to Lorraine Lange, director of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, Master of Arts in Teaching, and Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning graduate programs at Hollins University, for advice. “I asked Dr. Lange, ‘How do I go about doing this? How does this work? Is there something that Hollins offers?’ I got a lot of information from her and from one of my former principals.”
With their encouragement, Edmonds successfully took her Praxis examinations (important components of Virginia’s licensure and certification process, these exams help demonstrate knowledge of content, pedagogy, and instructional abilities) and the Virginia Communication and Literary Assessment (VCLA) examination, a basic skills test. “And then, Roanoke County actually hired me,” she says. Edmonds spent her first year of teaching splitting her time between Northside High School and Glenvar. She also enrolled in the Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning (M.A.T.L.) program at Hollins.
“Teaching and completing my M.A.T.L. at the same time was great. The program is so flexible. Being able to take those classes in the evening and take them online fit perfectly with my teaching schedule.” Edmonds says she needed five classes to get her teaching licensure and four more to get her master’s degree “so I just went ahead and did the full thing. I was surprised at how quick it was, it only took about a year and a half. And as I was teaching, I was learning a lot about the fundamentals of classroom management and other things you really need to know.”
Edmonds says she also benefited from the program’s intimate, close-knit environment. “The classroom settings were super-comfortable and relatively small-sized, so you could meet and get to know other students on an individual basis. We were working together and you knew what everyone else was teaching or wanting to teach. It was helpful to get ideas from people who were interested in the same things as you, or learn something completely different to get a new perspective as well.”
Edmonds is now beginning her fourth year as a teacher. After dividing her time between Northside and Glenvar during her first year, Edmonds moved solely to Glenvar, where she teaches 10th grade and 12th grade English.
“I’ve always been interested in literature and writing and my minor in college (she is a graduate of Virginia Tech) was actually in English, so it was kind of a perfect fit. A lot of the classes I took as an undergrad helped me with what I am doing now.”
Coming back to Glenvar has reunited Edmonds with many of the instructors who actually taught her when she was in high school. “It’s really cool to come back and be able to be friends with people who were my teachers,” and of course serve on the same faculty as her most important mentor, her mom.
But what has been especially gratifying to Edmonds has been the opportunity to form personal relationships with her students. “I had a lot of those relationships with the teachers who are now my coworkers. I love being able to help students decide what the next step is for them after high school, it’s a big time in their lives with a lot of choices they are making.” Her ability to get to know students on an individual basis is bolstered by the fact that Glenvar boasts small class sizes, and as Edmonds notes, “Teaching 10th graders and 12th graders means I get to have lot of those students twice. It’s neat to be able to look at my roster this year and see 15 to 20 students that I taught two years ago when they were sophomores and I’m getting to teach them again now that they are seniors.”
Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge Edmonds has faced during her teaching career in terms of developing those connections has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Some of it was really difficult. Having the hybrid classes, some students online and others in person, it’s not what any of us are used to. You have to make those connections in person, and the students who are online, you just see them through this screen image.”
Yet, Edmonds adds there were some silver linings to the pandemic experience, noting that the perspective everyone had gained when full in-person learning resumed last spring “made us all appreciate each other more. I think students and teachers alike were surprised we were able to do it, and I feel like everyone did a great job last year. Teachers and students both worked really hard to make sure nobody would fall behind.”
During her four years in education, Edmonds says she has discovered a good teacher must embody several characteristics to be successful. She explains that “caring, understanding, and finding a way to introduce material in a way that’s interesting to the students” are musts. “British literature isn’t always the most exciting thing for 12th graders, I think there are ways you can approach it that gets them excited in reading and learning more about it.”
And even though she has switched career paths, Edmonds has found the skills she acquired as a television reporter have come in handy. She admits, “I still get nervous those first few days of school talking in front of my students, and I think I probably always will. But, having the broadcast journalism background helps push those nerves down a bit.”