PA Virtual Grad: From Student to Student Teacher to Teacher
From a young age, Abigail Kauffman had a passion for music and knew that it would be a significant part of her life. She sang her first solo before she started kindergarten, and growing up, she would sing around the house any chance she got. She participated in different ensembles and competitions throughout middle school and high school, and her passion for music continued to grow.
Abigail attended PA Virtual from 3rd grade until graduating from high school in 2017. After graduation, she attended the University of Valley Forge to study Music Education. During her time there, she realized how important it is to influence the lives of those in the next generation, and that was when she knew that teaching music was the path she needed to take.
This past fall, Abigail was offered a student-teaching position for high school music at PA Virtual. Her mentor teacher, Mrs. Kat Anderson, has been teaching music at PA Virtual for several years.
Many of Abigail’s days were spent creating video lessons and assignments for students, as well as grading student work and providing feedback to students. She also spent time each week in Office Hours, which is one way PA Virtual teachers offer support to their students. Students can come to Office Hours to ask specific questions, get extra help with concepts, and check on their grades.
For each class that Abby was co-teaching with Mrs. Anderson, they had time set aside during the week when students could come to Office Hours. This time was important as it let them know if students were understanding the concepts that were covered, and it also helped them plan and modify lessons going forward if students were struggling.
“Communicating with students, Learning Coaches, and other teachers was another major part of my days because, in the virtual environment, you aren’t physically seeing your students every day,” she explained.
“It is so important to build those connections with the students and families and to support them when they need the extra assistance,” she added.
One of Abigail’s favorite and most rewarding parts of her assignment was teaching music to the high school Life Skills students.
“We would make music together by singing, chanting, and playing drums together,” she said.
“Although we didn’t all get on the microphone at the same time, the students would rehearse a song a couple of times, and then I would call on some of them to lead the rest of the class in the song. It was in that class where I found the most fulfillment because I got to see the students grow in their musical abilities, but also in their courage to sing or chant in front of the entire class,” she explained.
Since Abigail grew up attending PA Virtual, she was familiar with the virtual learning environment, so she had a general idea of what to expect in her student-teaching assignment. However, before beginning her student-teaching, she admits she was nervous about building relationships with students and connecting with them through music. But, once Abigail got started, she realized she was able to connect with her students virtually, specifically in the Life Skills class where the entire class was able to collectively make music together, cultivating a sense of teamwork and allowing students to build deeper relationships.
Abigail learned a lot from her student-teaching experience, including how virtual education can bring connections in a world that is disconnected.
“Students, as well as teachers, are in need of connection with others and the virtual classroom is a safe place for that,” she said.
She also learned that when teachers believe in students and their capabilities, students will have the confidence to rise to high expectations and complete a task.
“In the context of my classroom, it looked like the students answering questions about different types of music, singing a song, or creating a chant,” she explained. “No matter what subject area, this is applicable, and students will usually respond positively to encouragement from their teacher to step out of their comfort zone.”
When asked if she had any advice for other students who may be student-teaching at a virtual school in the future, Abigail had a few thoughts.
“To anyone who is going to be student teaching at a virtual school, know that it will be different than what you might have expected, but the most fulfilling part is when you can connect with students and help them grow in their knowledge,” she said. “Look for opportunities to interact with the students through different clubs or optional activities, as these are some of the most rewarding times you will spend with the students. Also, remember that your cooperating teacher is there to support you.”
She also pointed out that sometimes being in front of a camera while teaching can cause you to feel self-conscious and feel like a magnifying glass, but that it will also be a motivator to grow as an educator and figure out the most effective ways to advance students’ knowledge.
“I would encourage you to embrace that and to not be afraid to make mistakes,” she said. “Learn from the mistakes, but make the best effort not to make the same one after you’ve learned that lesson.”
Shortly after her student-teaching assignment ended, Abigail was hired as a middle school music teacher at PA Virtual, and she started her position in January. She looks forward to continuing to support the students and their Learning Coaches so that students can experience the enhancement that music can bring to their lives.
“Teaching students how to make music and how to use music to make their lives more joyful is what I am passionate about because music has helped me through many different seasons of my life,” she said. “Teaching has brought me a greater sense of fulfillment in life and has helped me to see how much students value the support that a teacher can provide, even at a virtual school.”
We wish Abigail all the best as she embarks on her newest role at PA Virtual!
Check out this video to learn more about Abigail's journey.
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