Sam Dunlap is the freshest face in Dave Naser’s chemistry classroom at Rappahannock County High School, but he’s not exactly a new student.
Dunlap, a student at Lord Fairfax Community College in Warrenton, is enrolled in LFCC’s Introduction to Teaching as a Profession, a course that requires real-world experience — which makes him an intern.
To give potential teachers an early opportunity to experience the challenges and realities in a classroom, the course requires a 20- to 40-hour supervised field work component. “It’s designed to keep us from waiting until the end of our degree to realize we do or do not like teaching,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap was allowed to request any area school for his practicum phase. He chose RCHS. “First of all, I went to high school at the other RCHS – Rockbridge County High School,” he said. “But I wanted to go to a smaller place to get involved in teaching. During a sociology class I took as a junior, I learned some things about the quality of education in urban versus smaller schools. Because of the difference that location made in the lives of kids, I wanted to go to a rural area to teach.”
The road that brought Dunlap to Rappahannock has been a broad and varied one. “I messed up in my first community college and realized I needed to get back on track,” he said. “That took me into a most amazing, life-changing opportunity with NOLS [National Outdoor Leadership School].”
With NOLS, students spend a set amount of time on remote wilderness expeditions where they are taught a variety of skills. “I spent three months in the Rockies, getting away from ‘mother culture’: no computer, no Internet, no cell phone, no iPod. At first I hated it. It was too primitive.
“Before NOLS, my outdoor experience was a canoe trip or camping overnight. With them, I learned mountaineering, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, first aid, leadership. After being away from home and away from society, my mind, body and soul were cleaned up. I realized I wanted to try college again and give it a good shot.”
The responsibilities Dunlap has in Naser’s classroom might fluctuate with the course, the day and the lesson objectives. “It’s a very open practicum. The most basic thing is to observe and take notes on teaching styles and what goes on in the classroom that possibly the teacher doesn’t see. Also, we are to notice classroom management techniques. Plus, we are supposed to be as big a help as we can be while staying involved in the class as mush as we can.”
Overall, Dunlap is “trying to get a feel of what a real classroom is like and what being a teacher is all about.”
One insight Naser’s intern has gained came from another area that often appeals to educators: coaching. “Sports were my savior back when I was in school, so I’d like to coach some, too. Right now, I’m assisting in the Rappahannock club wrestling program. Being called ‘Coach’ is one of the coolest things. I hope I can pass along what it takes to get better.”
Dunlap’s overall goal for the LFCC course is not an unfamiliar one: “I am hoping to get an A!”
He is also looking for a certain added benefit of working with RCHS’s veteran chemistry teacher. “Last time I took a chemistry class was in high school. It’s all rusty in my memory, so the things Mr. Naser is teaching, I’m relearning along with the class. I’m hoping to take chemistry next semester, so being in his classroom will be really helpful.”