Gina Warren's picture

Teacher Perspective: Making a Difference as an Online Educator

I’ve always been up for a challenge, which was why I ventured into online teaching at Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy (LAVCA) in 2011 after teaching in the brick and mortar setting for several years. The role was completely new territory for me since virtual instruction is fairly new to the region and LAVCA was in its launch year when I joined the team.   I feel like our team works on the cutting edge of instruction and I treasure the challenges that it brings.  I’ve been a LAVCA educator for five years now and have to say that while it is the most difficult thing that I have ever taken on professionally, it has also been the most rewarding work as well!   

In the traditional school setting, it’s easy to get comfortable and simply follow the same lesson plan every year and disconnect from engagement without even realizing how disconnected you have become.   With online instruction, you have to meet each child where they are and try to help them succeed from there. With online instruction, there are ample ways for students to succeed regardless of their circumstances, and the online environment really provides a platform for student success across the board -- no matter what difficulties they may face. The continuous challenge as an educator is meeting those needs and adapting your instruction regularly to those specific learning needs of your students.   It is more of an “a la carte” type of teaching versus the traditional “set menu.”

For most people that aren’t directly involved in online schooling, the students may be a bit of a mystery too because just as instruction has to be diverse, our students are too!   In my five years at LAVCA, I’ve learned a lot about the types of students that attend online schooling. Many come from more ‘traditional’ backgrounds that we expect from online schools –kids that have experienced bullying or who are either academically above or below their traditional brick and mortar schoolfellows and need more individualized attention to achieve and succeed. I’ve also encountered student athletes, actors and even those with medical needs – one in particular was a student who had cancer.

In reality, his life was always in upheaval – he never knew what he’d be doing or what health problems he’d be experiencing from day to day. Despite these challenges, he was a valuable member of the classroom and was able to continue to have an education through our virtual program. It was apparent that a traditional schooling environment would have been impossible for him due to his regular appointments and physical setbacks that he encountered regularly, but through online learning he was able work on a schedule that met his needs and continue to feel like he was an integral part of our class. I’ve become quite close to the family and have had the privilege of visiting with them several times since he joined my class.   His parents shared that one of the best parts of his treatment was the fact that his school experience was so blissfully normal, and he was able to just be a regular student even receiving additional small group remediation on key skills that further enhanced his learning in an already challenging situation. 

Ana Berry's picture

Teacher Perspective: The Spark

There’s a common misconception that if a student isn’t in the same room as a teacher they aren’t receiving the same quality of learning. That’s just false.

Even though my students and I are not in the same room there’s still a spark – the ‘oh yeah!’ in a chat window that lets me know a student gets it. That feeling is thrilling to me.

I teach math online at the Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy (LAVCA) and for me the leap from teaching in the traditional classroom to an online classroom was not a large one. I’ve been able to use similar materials and create strong intellectual connections – I feel as though I know my students even better than I did when we were face to face five times a week.

 In the online environment my students are able to be open with me about what they’re struggling with which allows me to develop a specific learning plan just for them. That’s how we drive success at LAVCA – creating connections with students to find what learning pathway works best for them.

Last school year I received a thank you message from a family of one of my students about how their son had suffered a great deal of bullying in his previous school. I was told that this student had lacked confidence to speak up in class during the beginning of the year. Throughout the year, he grew to be a regular contributor in class and the family conveyed that he has a renewed excitement for school.

There are so many stories that show how this education model can transform not just learning outcomes but a student’s life.

Jo Marie Bolick's picture

Teacher Perspective: Connecting with Students

I’ve always had a love for math and for children which led me to pursue a teaching career. After graduating from Washburn University, I taught in the traditional classroom setting for four years while working to obtain a Master’s degree in Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction. At that point in my career I began teaching math online at Insight School of Kansas to students in grades 6-12.

My goal as a teacher has always been to connect with students. Helping students find success where they have been unsuccessful is one of the most rewarding sides of teaching.

I’ve found that so often students are allowed to slip through the cracks in traditional learning environments simply because educators are unable to connect with them in ways that allow teachers to understand their student’s individual learning needs. In the online model, I can foster relationships with students and showcase their strengths, while working to develop their academic and social skills. I have often found that many students have limited success with socialization in the traditional brick-and-mortar school setting, yet thrive in an online environment that eases social pressures and allows them to develop these important skills at their own pace.

Since becoming a teacher at Insight School of Kansas, I have become more and more inspired to advocate for the online teacher profession and the innovative learning structure. It’s important for the public to hear teacher perspectives on how we are providing an education in ways that can make an impact, regardless of a student’s previous experience.

It’s frustrating to me at times to hear people discount online schooling when, in fact, online learning doesn’t mean easier or less rigorous - it’s the exact opposite!  Students benefit from a structure built for tailored learning and have the support personalized instruction from passionate educators wanting to put students first.

Ashley Collier's picture

Utah Virtual Academy Exceeds 3rd Grade Reading Goal

 

This week Utah Virtual Academy (UTVA) announced that it exceeded its third-grade reading goal for the 2014-15 school year. 

The Utah State Office of Education conducted an analysis of third grade reading competency data and concluded that UTVA achieved an 82.8 percent target -- outperforming its school-level target by over 18 percent.

In a letter to school the Utah State Office of Education stated, "Utah Virtual Academy has achieved their uniform growth goal target for the 2014-15 school year. Congratulations on making progress towards increasing the percentage of third grade students achieving competency in reading."

The goal is notable given the state had set a uniform growth target for UTVA at 64 percent for 2014-15. Additionally, research indicates that students who are unable to read by third grade are more likely to fall behind, rarely able to catch up, and are at higher risk of dropping out of school. In recent years many states have put emphasis on improving reading outcomes for young learners.

Stacey Hutchings, UTVA Head of School, said, "We are very proud of this accomplishment. Educators know that reading is the foundation of learning. Ensuring that third grade students are proficient in reading is critically important, and I'm so proud of our teachers, staff and committed parents who are working so hard towards this goal."

Jennifer Schultze's picture

Teacher Perspective: Back to School at Wyoming Virtual Academy

Today marks the first day of school for the 2015-2016 school year at Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA). WYVA is a program of the Niobrara County School District #1 and is open to students in grades K through 12. I have proudly been an online teacher for all of the six years that WYVA has been available in the state.

I come from a long line of teachers and know the effect that they have on young lives. My grandfather was a math teacher who was dedicated to struggling students. He took me under his wing and influenced my decision to become a teacher.

I am currently a music teacher at WYVA, and while it may seem challenging to teach the subject over the internet there are many fundamental similarities. As a teacher I see the same kids, same hearts, and same stories – the online setting doesn’t change those basic facts. I have become a stronger instructor and better at engaging students while teaching at WYVA because of the online environment, not despite it.

Many of the students I teach are struggling because of personal or home-life issues. Last year, there was a student that struggled to complete quizzes and I learned that the student had difficulty reading. We met regularly one-on-one and I soon discovered that the student was an auditory learner and had a great passion and aptitude for music. One of the elements I enjoy most about teaching online at WYVA is the ability to meet with students and provide individualized instruction.

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