Teaching while learning

Sondra Snidow (M.Ed. ‘06) introduces a passion for both to her students

Sondra Snidow

Sondra Snidow

The prospect of starting a second career can be daunting. The possibility of going back to school, learning new skills, or even starting over at the bottom of the ladder can stop the best of us in our tracks.

Fortunately for her students, Sondra Snidow (M.Ed. ’06) is an exception to that. After earning her undergraduate degree in family and consumer sciences from Virginia Tech, she worked for 21 years as a nutrition educator and program coordinator. She loved her job, but after she and her husband had two children, she found that job-related travel was taking her away from her family too much.

As a result, Snidow left her job in 1997 and went to work part-time for Henrico County Public Schools in the family and consumer sciences field. “At the time, I really didn’t know what the future would bring for me,” she said.

Not long after that, the Commonwealth of Virginia began a pilot for what is known today as Teachers for Tomorrow, a program where high school juniors and seniors interested in a career in education are exposed to a curriculum and hands-on experience that focus on teaching. When the pilot began, Snidow was one of only a handful teachers in Henrico County chosen to participate.

She soon began taking her high school students in the program on field trips to VCU. Activities included guided tours of the campus and presentations from Dr. Diane Simon in the School of Education. Snidow recalls that students were impressed with the program, the presentations ... and with VCU.

"When I learned that the School of Education offered a master’s degree with a specialty in instructional technology, it really appealed to me.”
– Sondra Snidow

“We did a survey at the end of each school year asking students in the program what their favorite activity was, and the VCU trip always came out on top,” she said. “For many of them, the Teachers for Tomorrow program taught them more about how to handle the college experience than any advanced placement class ever could.”

Teaching the program had another benefit – it made Snidow realize that she needed to refresh her professional skills as well. “I had considered obtaining my master’s degree in education, and Henrico County had recently begun their laptop initiative. When I learned that the School of Education offered a master’s degree with a specialty in instructional technology, it really appealed to me. The timing was perfect. It all felt like it was meant to be,” she said.

Snidow enrolled in the master’s program at VCU’s School of Education and quickly began to see the benefits, particularly from her research projects.

“I was teaching at Hermitage High School in Henrico County while pursuing my master’s degree. I was having a behavioral issue with one of my students, so one of my research projects was to examine several techniques for dealing with that particular type of behavior, apply each technique in the classroom, and then report the results,” she recalled. “It really helped me with classroom management at the time and still does to this day.”

Snidow is now officially retired from teaching, but she still substitutes about 28 days a year in Henrico County Public Schools. She also hears occasionally from some of her students she taught years ago. One former student was an officer in the Future Educators Association at Hermitage, which supports students who are interested in education-related careers. She majored in nursing when she started at VCU, but soon found it wasn’t the right fit.

“She called me to tell me she had switched to an education major. She was so excited, she just couldn’t wait to tell me,” Snidow said.

Still, the news wasn’t a complete surprise.

“You just know with some students, that they’re going to end up going into education. They may start out down a different path, but you know they’re going to get there,” she said.

“The good news is, you usually know they’re going to make good teachers, too.”

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