Growing up in Kansas, I’ve always been fascinated by pioneers – those who ventured west, accepting the challenge of the unknown. Do you remember the computer game, The Oregon Trail? That game is as close as I’ve come to experiencing wild terrain and the challenges faced by the Pioneers of the American west.
When it comes to education, however, my fellow online educators and myself are pioneers. Together we have mapped uncharted territory and used our unique abilities to define ourselves as online teachers and work together to serve students.
I began teaching at Insight School of Kansas (ISKS) in 2009. I’d just had a baby and left my traditional brick and mortar school for a flexible, online career opportunity. I quickly realized that there wasn’t a teacher down the hall who’d been teaching for a couple decades and was ready to share the tricks of the trade. My colleagues were as new at this online teaching gig as I was, and we were tasked with delivering high quality education to our students. I can’t say that we had it perfect year one, but I can say, without a doubt, is that we were committed to analyzing our teaching methods and revamping as necessary to best meet the needs of our students. Today, in 2016, we are fine tuning our methods and continually evaluating the effectiveness of our model.
CREDO, Mathematica, and CRPE released a study on online charter schools, which can be found here and here. This study provides an analysis of current online charter schools, information of policies associated with these schools, and finally, gives suggestions for online charter schools moving forward. This study does good job pointing out that the population of an online charter school is as unique as the model itself.
After reading this study, I felt as if the authors do not have a clear picture of what my colleagues and I do as online teachers on a daily basis. Although, I cannot make any broad generalizations, I can say for certain, there are a couple points mentioned in this article, that are not true for teachers at ISKS.
For example the study mentions “… online charter schools… usually rely extensively on “asynchronous” instruction that requires students to do their coursework independently and on their own time.” Although, my courses have a great deal of asynchronous material, live synchronous meetings with me are a large part of my students’ schedules. I meet with my students Monday through Thursday for an hour to deliver math instruction. They also receive instruction daily in at least two other subjects. In addition, I hold office hours and offer small groups for students who are struggling.
Perhaps, the largest misconception in this article for me as an online education occurs when the author states “Policymakers often raise concerns about the quality of teachers in [education management organization] schools – how the schools can be overseen effectively when traditional “walkthrough” inspections are not possible.”
If you haven’t taught in an online environment, you might not realize how absurd this statement is.
In a brick and mortar school, at most, my principal stepped in four times a year for a quick observation of my teaching. Through our online classroom, Blackboard Collaborate, I have a unique recording link which has a copy of every class I’ve taught since 2011. Talk about the ultimate observation opportunity. My administrators can access these recordings at any time, and use them in regularly scheduled evaluation meetings. That saying ‘what happens behind closed doors’ does not apply to my online classroom, since my classroom doors never shut!
My colleagues and I are accountable to our administrators and we strive to deliver engaging and effective instructional lessons. We’ve been leaning on each other and working to build a model effective for our unique students.
We are pioneers and we continue to work to meet the needs of our diverse student population every day.
Jo Bolick is a Middle School Math Teacher at Insight School of Kansas and a K12 Teacher Ambassador