Online Teaching: Reflections of a Virtual School Teacher
Originally published at Publicschooloptions.org
Teaching is often described as a calling. For me, I would say this description is accurate because, aside from that brief time in early elementary school when my career goal was to become Batman, teaching has always been the only career choice for me. Although I always knew that I would be a teacher when I grew up, a couple of decades ago, the idea of being a teacher for a virtual school would have sounded as plausible as my becoming the Caped Crusader.
I first learned of online schooling in 2008 when I returned to Ohio following teaching in a brick-and-mortar setting for three years in Nevada. The idea of being a teacher in an online environment was enticing, especially as I recalled what I had learned about effective teaching in my college teacher preparation program. Online schooling seemed to make many teaching essentials logistically possible, something that I could not necessarily say was true of my brick-and-mortar environment. Over the past four years as a teacher in an online school, I can speak firsthand of its benefits. To me, these include the following:
Teaching in an online environment allows me to meet my students where they are academically. Instead of having a group of thirty students for a set amount of time, I am able to tailor my instruction to meet the needs of the students I teach. I am afforded the opportunity to work one-on-one or in small groups with students, and I can develop more challenging lessons for those students who are advanced.
Attentiveness to Diverse Learning Styles
Within my lessons, I am able to incorporate music, video clips, cooperative groupings, and additional resources like outlines and graphic organizers. This allows the student to use those resources that best fit how he or she learns and remembers the material. The distinction here is that instead of bringing the students to the lesson, I am now bringing the lesson to the students.
In college, the emphasis was on helping students develop 21st century skills. This is one of the benefits of online school that I think is often overlooked—the opportunity for students to develop their technological skills. By using the computer and various software programs, students are developing these technical skills simultaneous with learning the course content.
Using data to drive instruction has been seen as essential, whether in the state Department of Education rankings for schools or in an individual classroom with teachers using formative assessment techniques. I know, as a former brick-and-mortar teacher, that collecting this data and then analyzing it was time-consuming and, by the end of the school day, difficult. Online schooling has much of this data collected and organized for the teacher, with the teacher’s being able to run reports for immediate access to data to help form their instruction.
Parents as Partners
Online teaching has also enabled me to become closer with the parents of the students I teach. In my brick-and-mortar environment, conferences could happen before or after school. The frequency of conferences was also limited. In an online environment, I can have a conference with a parent much more frequently. In education, I think sometimes the relationship between teachers and parents is not leveraged as it should be. I have learned so much about my students simply by talking to their parents.
I have greatly enjoyed teaching in an online environment and have recognized its benefits. I have witnessed firsthand how it has been an environment in which many students have flourished. From time to time, I still encounter some resistance to this learning model and hear some misconceptions about virtual school. I have learned that, just like Batman, we can be misunderstood. However, all teachers are deserving of respect because, at the end of the day, we all enter this profession to make a difference and to move our students forward.
Although we might not have the Bat Signal or drive an awesome car, we are often fighting those social villains—poverty, disenfranchisement, funding shortages—to make this monumental goal a reality. For some students, teachers are real-life superheroes. As teachers, we need to remember this. Student success needs to be our focus. We need to be mindful that, after all, Batman and Robin didn’t bicker over who got to drive the Batmobile.