By VCU School of Education
Ashley S. Bland, who was in the RTR Teacher Residency’s Cohort 5, earned her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the VCU School of Education in 2016. She was recently named Richmond Public Schools 2021 Teacher of the Year.
When she was an undergraduate student at VCU, Ashley Bland didn’t give much thought to being a teacher at first.
She was double majoring in biomedical engineering and physics, and serving as pre-college initiative chair for the VCU chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. In her leadership role with the multicultural organization, she worked with middle and high school students in the Metro Richmond area, encouraging them to enter STEM fields.
Some of the students she worked with ended up pursuing engineering degrees at VCU, an experience that Bland says was life-changing. “I was very intrigued to find that students could be inspired enough to see the work that other people were doing, and want to pursue that field themselves,” she said.
One of her engineering professors took notice and suggested that Bland consider the RTR Teacher Residency, a graduate program at the School of Education that recruits, trains and supports teachers for high-needs and hard-to-staff schools. She looked into the program and found that it was a “perfect fit.”
One of the things that impressed her most about RTR was that it took a different approach to the teaching profession.
“Everybody thinks they know what it means to be an educator because they’ve gone to school themselves,” she said. “It’s very different, and RTR exposes you to that difference. It respects the education profession and treats the experience like a professional residency.”
In the program, residents work alongside a master teacher who helps to guide them through the experience. Assigned to now-closed Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School, Bland was matched with Donavon Tucker, a mathematics teacher at the school who today serves as assistant principal at George Wythe High School.
“I couldn’t have gotten a better match,” said Bland. “Mr. Tucker taught me the ins and outs of what it means to be an educator who makes an impact. As a Black man, he did an exceptional job of making math accessible to his students. As a Black woman, I still carry that with me today. My students know that if I can accomplish something, they can, too.”
Bland today serves as an instructional technology resource teacher at three RPS schools: John B. Cary Elementary School, Mary Scott Preschool and Binford Middle School. For the past year, she’s been dedicated to showing her students that they could master technology during a pandemic. For her efforts over the past year, she was recently presented with the school district’s most coveted award – Richmond Public Schools 2021 Teacher of the Year.
More about Ashley Bland
Where from? Westmoreland County, Virginia
How did you get interested in STEM? I had very good educators where I grew up. My middle school math teacher in sixth grade, Matthew Loring, took an extreme interest in all of us. He knew math really well, and he made me feel like I could do anything. He shared his experiences at Penn State with us, and he exposed me to the idea of going to college. I accelerated my math studies and attended the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School in Warsaw, Va., which focused on environmental science and math. Thanks in large part to Mr. Loring, I became a first-generation college student.
Why VCU? I was a double major as an undergraduate in biomedical engineering and physics. I loved being in an urban setting. Where I'm from is very rural, and I knew that being in the city would give me opportunities that I hadn't been exposed to before.
Any tips for other students considering a master’s in education at VCU? Take advantage of every opportunity you have. Observe teachers, not just the ones you're assigned to, but others as well. That was the most powerful thing I learned from my experience at VCU. I took bits and pieces of what others were doing and made them my own. It was an amazing experience!
Watch the Surprise RPS 2021 Teacher of the Year Announcement on the Richmond Public Schools Facebook page.