As a teacher, I found it tough to make the move from a brick and mortar middle school to a virtual academy. After fourteen years of teaching English to classrooms full of seventh graders, I worried that teaching at an online school would not provide the same opportunities to make real connections with my students. Now, almost three years after the switch, I have found the opposite to be true.
Students are social beings. They like to share information and tell stories. In a traditional classroom, teachers have limited time to respond due to the demands of classroom management and the need to prevent disciplinary problems. A teacher might be able to give a student a quick verbal comment or a smile totaling a few seconds before getting back to the set agenda. In a virtual exchange, however, teachers may take the time to craft careful responses without worrying about whether or not other students are getting off task. Phone conversations amount to one-on-one instruction, which has been identified as a Best Practice in teaching. In a virtual classroom with live chat and microphone capabilities, every student gets a chance to contribute to discussions. This is especially beneficial in high school literature, which I teach. In an online discussion forum, students share their thoughts without worrying about peer pressure or feeling intimidated.
Truth be told, I was surprised to discover that the virtual academy gave me more opportunities to get to know some of my students and their families on a more personal level.
My other concern was whether or not teaching in a virtual environment would be fun. I enjoyed the brick and mortar classroom because I was able to use humor to connect with kids. Through the use of video and live ClassConnect sessions in Elluminate, I have found there to be no shortage of opportunities to laugh with students in an online school. Learning should be fun, and a classroom should be a place where people can laugh together. My concern about the virtual environment stifling my personality has proven to be unwarranted. Teaching for K¹² at Washington Virtual Academies High School (WAVA-HS) provides ample opportunity to have fun, smile, sing, and laugh, while at the same time exposing students to a rigorous, rich literature curriculum.
I can’t say what the future holds for me as a teacher, but for now, I am glad I made the switch.