Katharine Greene is a teacher at Arkansas Virtual Academy.
As a virtual teacher I often hear the same questions from people I know. Questions such as, “Are you even a real teacher?”, “What do you actually do?” and “How easy is your job?” really bring me down. I worked at a typical brick and mortar school prior to Arkansas Virtual Academy, and yes, there are a lot of differences. However, if I could put those two versions of myself in a boxing ring to settle which was the better teacher, I am not sure brick and mortar me would be able to hang in for all 12 rounds.
I was recently asked to describe the differences between being a virtual teacher and a brick and mortar teacher. Comparing virtual school to brick and mortar school is not comparing apples to apples; it is more like comparing a four-door family sedan to a 4×4 all-terrain vehicle. Both of these vehicles are adequate vehicles with a purpose, but they are both not for everyone. That is how I have come to see virtual school and brick and mortar school – neither is a one-size fits-all package.
With that in mind, here is the start of my 12-part series comparing the two from my own personal experience as a teacher. Follow along as I duke it out with none other than myself and show which one is the real teacher champion and which one gets the K.O.
Round 1- Daily Schedule
Five days a week for roughly 36 weeks in the brick and mortar my schedule was the same. There was not much room for error or flexibility, but it did give a comfort zone of regularity. The weeks would fly by and before you knew it, it was winter break.
I would wake up at 6 a.m. and get the family ready for the day. My daughter went to the local elementary school about 20 minutes from the middle school where I taught, and my son went to a babysitter about 10 miles from my daughter’s school, so round trip from home to my school was about 45 minutes.
At 8 a.m. the “Good mornings” began! Smiles and hugs and high fives, singing the Good Morning Song to my students as I walked to my class, meeting smile after smile and the occasional eye roll.
I had six 50-minute classes, which all covered the same content for varied levels. During the five-minute break between classes, I would RUN down to the restroom or for coffee. We had 30 minutes for lunch, when I would inhale what food I thought to bring with me, which was typically leftovers.
Each day I had to deal with student behavioral problems, disruptions and interruptions due to school events such as assembly meetings. Some days were smooth sailing with very little stress or interruptions, while others were chaos.
Sixth period was supposed to be used to prepare for the next day or week, but was usually eaten up with administrative responsibilities. Very little planning was actually accomplished during this time.
Even on a good day, seventh period – the last class of the day – was very difficult to accomplish an entire lesson because the students had already mentally checked out for the day. Most years this was one of my brightest classes, as it was AP or Pre-AP, but also one of the least productive.
BBBRRRRRRIIIIIINNNGGG! At 3 p.m. students flooded into the hallways. Hugs and “See you tomorrows” flew in all directions. Smiles and wisecracks were never far away at this time of day. This short 10-15 minutes is one I really miss.
From dismissal until 4 p.m. was usually my time for checking mail and gathering papers to grade. Then I would pick up the kids, set my daughter on her homework and start thinking about supper and laundry. After dinner, the kids would get ready for bed and I’d start grading papers and planning. From the time I got home until the time I hit the bed I felt like I was running on high speed at all times. It was exhausting.
Now with ARVA, I wake up and make breakfast for my two kids around 6:30 a.m. We eat and talk about plans for the day. My oldest attends the local school– not because it is any better or worse, but I gave her the choice and she decided that she, the 10-year-old, would rather not spend all day with her kid brother.
Around 7:30 a.m. I drive to my parents’ house and drop my daughter off with my father, who is the local band director, and they ride to and from school together. My son and I stay with my mom and start our day. I log on around 7:45 and start checking emails while my mother starts my son with his lessons. He is four and not old enough for kindergarten. They work through the day, while I work in the office I set up in a spare room. An office at my mother’s house was a great way for me to put a little more separation between work and home – that way I don’t feel as though I am ALWAYS working.
Throughout my day I have various administrative responsibilities, such as keeping up to date on all things related to our students and their progress, success, needs and attendance. Also, there are admin office hours used as check-ins with my principal and instructional facilitator to keep us all moving in a positive direction with guidance and encouragement. I LOVE these meetings – they are informative, and I always walk away feeling prepared to teach my students.
Homeroom is a time and place for me to touch base with my students each week. This is also time for me to get to know my students and families. They make connections here and I share strategies for success. Then there are my content classes, which are actually very similar to my brick and mortar classes.
Sometimes my classes involve me touring an area or walking in the yard exploring a thought or idea with my students through a video. I am a very active person, so sitting at a desk all day would not work well for me – so I don’t!
In between those sessions, I will do things I typically had to do after the school day in brick and mortar, such as lesson planning or calling new families for support. These are flexible and can be moved around in the day should I need to rework a lesson that did not work as well as planned or meet with a parent in a conference room on their schedule. Other times I will check TVS, which is the platform for monitoring our students to ensure they are progressing and successful.
Throughout the day, my son works with my mother on lessons and I am able to pop in and see what they are up to, as well as eat lunch with them. Oftentimes during my parent calls/family check-ins, I will walk the block to get exercise and stretch my legs. If I need to mail student letters or information to parents, I have the ability to do so without missing my lunch or giving up precious family time.
Honestly, I feel like I really do the same amount of work as I had at brick and mortar, but I spread it out differently. I do not have six classes a day – typically I have 3-5 classes. I now have time during the day to do all of the work I would normally do after school and during professional development days. My students do not wait to see me to ask for help, they just call me. I spend more time with family and less time dealing with administrative issues such as discipline and policy. The communication is much more active because it has to be in order to work.
Next time, we will look at STUDENT INTERACTIONS and see a prime example of how important that line of communication is in both school settings.