Katie Poindexter's picture

Reframing the teacher role

When I started teaching at a traditional brick-and-mortar school in 2005, I thought I was signing on to teach 7th grade reading and writing. Little did I know I would teach my students so much more.

During that time I would teach the 11 year old girl that showed up to class in tears because a group of girls made fun of her Wal-Mart outfit that their opinion did not matter. I would teach the boy with glasses that despite the jeers by his classmates, glasses were cool and would help him become something great. I would teach my class that words hurt and once they are spoken can have devastating effects. But most importantly, I had to teach myself that I was going to have to teach more than reading and writing.

It was not until I became a virtual teacher in 2011 at Virginia Virtual Academy that I was truly able to be the teacher I wanted to be.

As teachers, our number one goal is student success. Are they understanding the concepts? Are they able to demonstrate this understanding? If they aren’t, we are left with the task of trying to figure out why. For many students, additional instruction and practice can help close this gap. But for some, the root cause of their poor performance is sociological -- a result of negative social interactions with their peers. A report published in September 2015 by NoBullying.com said that 1 in 3 students report being bullied during the school year (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013). As a result of bullying, parents and students are turning to alternative methods of schooling.

In 2014, K12 Inc. surveyed over 2000 parents with children currently enrolled across K12 partner schools. 21% of all responding parents and 31% of parents with high school students who responded cited bullying as one of the reasons they chose to move to online learning. 97% of the parents who enrolled children for this reason would recommend a K12-powered program to a family with a student who is being bullied.

Lauren Weber's picture

Teacher Perspective: Family Connections

When I was in school, I was passionate about learning and eager to engage in lessons with my teachers. However, one of the biggest factors contributing to my passion to become a teacher was my brother. My brother suffered from social anxiety and, growing up, I observed how he was treated differently by his teachers. I knew at that point that I wanted to make a difference for students overcoming similar obstacles.

I’m currently a teacher at Insight School of Kansas and I see how online schooling helps facilitate support for students like my brother.

I recall one student who had social anxiety and difficulty speaking in front of others. Over a few years, we worked together and during his last school year he made a video where he gave a wonderful speech. I was so proud of this student and it’s amazing to be able to provide an environment where students with specific learning needs can find success.

In the online model there is no time lost on classroom management or disciplinary issues that plague teacher at traditional schools. There is very little judgement in the online setting, which allows me to interact with students who have been disadvantaged in their previous schools.

As a teacher, it’s also important to realize that many students don’t always connect with every subject. I work hard to make sure that those individuals find some way to learn. I enjoy teaching World History because we can make it come alive through connecting the names and dates to literature, art, mathematics, and culture, to people who live and breathe. 

Ashley Fryer's picture

Teacher Perspective: Reigniting Passions

I have always wanted to be a teacher. I remember lining up all my dolls in the evenings and teaching them whatever I learned in elementary school that day.  My passion started early!  While I was in high school, I belonged to the Future Educators of America and served as an officer for two years. It was at that time that I decided I specifically wanted to teach science at a middle school and high school level. Looking back now, I see that I was already starting to develop my own teaching philosophy:  I’m a firm believer that every child can and wants to learn, but that it’s up to me – and other educators – to find ways to best communicate.

I have a Master of the Arts in Teaching with an emphasis on Environmental Conservation and taught at a traditional school prior to teaching at Insight School of Kansas. The transition from teaching in the brick-and-mortar classroom to teaching science online wasn’t easy at first. Connecting with students through synchronous classes – live classroom session helped ease my transition into the new role.

Throughout my experience with teaching online, I’ve found innovate ways to connect with my students. Many traditional science teachers have a hard time understanding how online teachers can effectively teach science online. Using my webcam and pictures, I actually do just as many demonstrations in my virtual classroom as I did in a traditional setting.  I utilize technology for some virtual labs as well.  My middle school students each receive a school science kit that students don’t have to share and that can be used over and over again. As a class we can look at different things under microscopes, measure density of different objects, grow bacteria, test acid and bases…the list goes on and on.

I live on a hobby farm, which is very useful when teaching science or hosting the middle school Outdoor Club.  I’m an avid gardener and have the unique ability to bring science lessons to life by showing my students what’s in bloom at home. I also can show them a new baby animal that has been born recently and use my real pets as examples when we learn about genetics.  Inviting the classroom into relevant parts of my personal life has really helped foster strong bonds and a feeling of community. 

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.