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Collings follows parents into teaching profession

Zane Collings shares his journey about growing up in West Virginia and pursuing a career in elementary education at their state's flagship university. Collings shares how he decided to pursue elementary education (over musical education) and the influence of both of his parents, who are both teachers. He emphasizes the importance of focusing on the well-being of the children when considering a teaching career and highlights the distinctive features of WVU's elementary education program, including his hands-on experience in the field.

Zane Collings stands outside with his arms folded.

Zane Collings

Major: Elementary Education

Class: Senior
Hometown: Martinsburg, W.Va.

Why did you decide to come to West Virginia University?

I grew up in West Virginia and I kind of always knew I wanted to stay in-state. I wanted to aim for the Promise Scholarship. I also knew that my mom had gone to WVU and it was something I was familiar with. I’d never really been to WVU, but I was familiar with it. I knew from the time I was in middle school that I intended to come to WVU.

Did you always know you wanted to be an elementary school teacher?

Early on in high school, I began to drift towards music education. But, as a senior, I realized I was more drawn to the teaching side of things than the music side of things. I really enjoyed working with younger kids, and that’s when knew I wanted to be an elementary school teacher.

What happened during that senior year that helped shape that decision?

I did show choir in high school, so that’s how and why I was thinking about music education. In my senior year, I ran an after-school club with a friend of mine where we just played games and did gym activities and I enjoyed that.

And then later in the year I choreographed a show choir at a nearby elementary school and that was fun because it was more than just playing games, it was really teaching them something. I felt that there was a level of competitiveness when it came to the field of music, and I wanted to focus on teaching for the sake of teaching.

As I got older, I realized I was happiest around kids. I find kids easy to talk to and work with.

How did your parents being teachers affect your path toward being a teacher?

Both my parents are teachers, so even though I wasn’t always sure what I wanted to do, I always had the whispering of being a teacher in my ear. My mom is a reading specialist/reading interventionist at Winchester Avenue Elementary, which is where I went to school, and spending a lot of time in her school was probably one of the biggest things that affected my decision to become an elementary school teacher. My dad is a high school English teacher, so it was a slightly different field but still provided that teaching influence.

I was supported my entire life as a reader and reading daily. Before I knew I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, high school English teacher was my “backup plan” because I like to read and working with people.

What does it mean for you to grow up in West Virginia and attend the flagship university majoring in elementary education?

With both my parents being teachers, I grew up very aware of the issues that affect the state. I was on the picket lines with my parents during the strike. It’s one thing to hear about the problems and challenges teachers face, but it’s another thing to see them, talk to them and be with them. My family was having conversations with teachers who were staying in the state and some who were leaving.

As someone who grew up in West Virginia and publicly said I wanted to go to WVU, I remember kind of being judged for that. But Morgantown and WVU have the same kind of people as my hometown – the same spirit of kindness. Honestly, though, being proud of being a West Virginia native is something I’ve grown into. It wasn’t something I felt really strongly about growing up, but is something that’s really resonated with me looking back at where I’ve come from and how I’ve gotten here.

What is your pitch to someone thinking about being a teacher?

It sounds basic, but think about the kids. The kids have no say in salary or any of the laws that surround teaching. When I struggle with things, what grounds me the most is thinking about the kids.

What sets WVU’s elementary education program apart from the rest?

This program, in comparison to others, does a great job of getting you in the field to get experience. We get to make some mistakes and learn while we’re in the field, which is really important because you’re going to make mistakes, and it’s better to do it while you’re still a student than when you have your first classroom.

Also, the faculty here have great, practical experience and are willing to work with students. Our classes are small and we can have discussions about the material rather than just being lectured.

Describe your in-classroom experiences so far.

I am in my second year at North Elementary. Last year I was in a fifth-grade class and a second-grade class. This year I’m in a second-grade class again, and it’s been great. It’s been a huge learning experience. And even though our faculty does a great job, residency has taught me more than I could in any classroom. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a teacher through this experience – things I am good at, and things I need to improve on. It’s really important for us to get this experience before we just get launched into a classroom. We’re in the field for about half of our college experience, which is great, and not many other schools do that.

How have you implemented your personality and musicality into the classroom?

One of the most difficult things about being a student teacher is balancing working in someone else’s classroom with developing your own teaching style. I know that I’m going to dance a lot in my own classroom. I’m going to have my kids dance a lot in the classroom. I already sing a lot throughout the day in my placement, and I know that I’m going to do that a whole lot more when I have my own classroom.I know I’m going to integrate the arts in my classroom whenever I can.

A whole lot goes into your teaching identity, and for me, I have known from day one that arts will be part of that identity for me. One of the reasons I moved from music education to elementary education was because I knew that the arts could still be part of my classroom.

What are your future plans?

Of course there is a lot up in the air, but I do know that I will be teaching next year. At this phase in my life I am open to wherever life takes me. I am a little excited, and a little terrified, to see where life leads me.

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