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“Be flexible.”

Alum Cheri Manning (M.T. ’06) offers sound advice to future teachers

Cheri Manning teaches fifth grade at John B. Cary Elementary School in Richmond.

Cheri Manning teaches fifth grade at John B. Cary Elementary School in Richmond, Va.

When Cheri Manning (M.T. ’06) made her school’s track and field team the summer before fourth grade, her parents seldom missed a meet. She appreciated their support, but one of her strongest memories of that time is the interest that her fourth grade teacher showed in her running.

“It would have been easy for Mrs. Harned not to pay attention to me because I was shy and quiet in school, but she took an interest in what I was interested in. It meant so much to me at the time,” she said.

Later, when Manning was a teenager, she often joined her sister on babysitting jobs. She enjoyed spending time with children, teaching them and learning from them. In fact, her first job was assistant teacher for 3- and 4-year-olds at Tuckaway Ellwood in Richmond’s Carytown. She was 16 years old, and it’s when she first thought about becoming a teacher.

She followed that passion to VCU, which she attended on a track and field scholarship. She was certain she had made the right choice once she started student teaching in the School of Education's Master of Teaching program.

“That was my ‘a-ha’ moment, when I knew that teaching was what I wanted to do. I got to teach on my own for the first time, and once I knew I could do it, it felt great,” she said.

On her VCU School of Education professors:
“They spent time with us and got to know us. They were there for us.”

Manning credits her School of Education professors for preparing her well for her first teaching job out of graduate school at Woodville Elementary School in Richmond’s Creighton Court. She said they not only gave her skills she could use in the classroom on Day 1, her professors connected with her.

“They spent time with us and got to know us. They took time to listen to us when we were having a problem. They were there for us,” she said.

After teaching for a year at Woodville, Manning moved to John B. Cary Elementary School in Carytown, where she’s taught for the past ten years. Today, she teaches fifth grade and has some useful advice for anyone considering teaching as a profession.

“Be flexible. College can only prepare you so much. They give you the theory, the practice and the tools, but when the rubber meets the road in the classroom, it could be a different scenario than what you’ve ever experienced before.”

She added one more piece of advice: find time to connect with your students, as her teachers and professors did with her.

“I can still tell you something about every student that I’ve ever had, because I put in the time and the effort to get to know them,” she said.