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The nature of education is fast changing, and as a result, teaching itself has begun to take many new forms. Online schools are new avenues that more and more teachers are beginning to explore. Like any new venture, online education must learn effective ways to incorporate skilled teaching and a variety of communication forms between students and teachers. It is still a largely unexplored avenue by most teachers, especially ones secure in their classroom career. However, online teaching is an area of education that still requires highly qualified educators, skilled communicators, and teachers with the same passion for helping students develop into successful people as can be found in brick and mortar schools.
Around the country, school districts struggle to find the funding and resources they need, while often at the same time succumbing to a new “reform” mandate to require teachers to do more with less. States push more and more mediocritized, but higher-stakes, standardized tests on students, which, in turn, take classroom time away students and their teachers. Those same students are less and less prepared for higher education because they no longer have time to learn critical thinking and analysis-based habits. Meanwhile, higher education is exploding into new models of access for students, including MOOC’s (massive open online courses) and multiple colleges offering full areas of study and degrees online.
There are a variety of types of online learning available, but most online education is still centered at the college level. Secondary online education is more rare, and still experimental in many parts of the country. Some states are working to set up official online charter schools, and other online resources are private, for profit education ventures. An effective business model is one that provides a rigorous, standards-based education to students who may be outside the available traditional classroom. Many rural communities are finding online schools invaluable, as are students who are dropouts or in danger of becoming dropouts. On the other end of the spectrum, students who need or prefer a more accelerated program find online classes may help them achieve their goals more efficiently than a brick and mortar school can.
There is a natural resistance to online teaching from the traditional school system. Anything that appears to endanger the security of teaching in an established education system can often feel initially intimidating because it threatens the status quo. But online teaching may be a very important avenue for the thousands of skilled teachers who are finding themselves outside that education system. Since 2009, over 300,000 public school teachers have lost their positions because of the economy and budget cuts, which doesn’t count private school losses. Many of those teachers are looking for ways to stay active as educators, and many more young, passionate adults are still hoping to go into education. Just because there are not physical classrooms for those teachers does not mean that there are not good opportunities for them to teach.
If you are curious about or considering online teaching, there are several issues you will want to consider:
- What role does the teacher play? In some cases, the “teacher” for an online course is merely someone who grades pre-determined quizzes or records accumulated grades. Look for an online teaching position that actually puts you in the position of teaching. This means multiple and effective ways of communicating personally with your students and the ability to participate in the curriculum design of the course(s) you teach.
- Is there quality administrative support? Just as a teacher in a brick and mortar school requires support, so do online teachers. Look for a situation where you have an administrator that not only regularly evaluates your interactions with your students, but also has an “open door” for you to seek help as you learn new technology and who will help you reach your students.
- How rigorous is the curriculum? Be as cautious about curriculum in an online school as you would with any school where you were hoping to find work. Does the curriculum meet state standards? Is it planned with critical thinking in mind for the students? Is it more than simply repetitive standardized testing, and does it allow for students to be creative and thoughtful with their work? Do you have the ability to shape or write the curriculum yourself?
- What other supports exist for the online students? Look for a support system set up for the students to not only benefit from your teaching, but to get any mentoring, counseling or administrative assistance that they might need. Students may be looking for education that follows their pace and their interests, but they still need guidance on how to best achieve their goals and reach success.
- Are you willing to learn new skills? Online teaching requires the same teaching skills that any quality classroom needs. But those skills function in a different way online. As an online teacher, you must also be tech savvy enough to be able to troubleshoot Internet issues, work with whatever platform the school uses, and navigate new ways to communicate. You may be teaching asymmetrically, which means you will manage the curriculum and student communication faster, sometimes at all hours, and often without the students in your courses ever knowing each other.
- What kind of compensation is available for the online teacher? Let’s not kid ourselves. Even teachers who enter this career field because of passion and love for kids still need to make a living. Be sure to discover how your teaching will be compensated. Many online schools hire on a contract basis, rather than by salary. You will need to be very aware of whether the hours you put in will be taken into account, and you will also want to make sure that you stay on top of your tax liability. Contract teaching is often untaxed income, so you will be responsible for that when tax time comes.
Online teaching is a burgeoning frontier. Like any new idea in education, there will be fits and starts as it finds its way. There is a growing market for online education, and students are looking for ways to achieve the education they want if they can’t find it in the traditional school system. But one thing is certain: qualified and dedicated teachers are needed to make online schools work for students, and for society. The more professional educators work to make online education a quality endeavor, the better it will be for all who pursue it.