Bucking Convention: The Joy of Being a Virtual Teacher
You could say that I was pushed into pursuing an online teaching position. Social-studies jobs were not only extremely competitive in the state of Arkansas, but also mostly filled by coaches. Faced with a probable future of waiting years for a position in an actual, physical school to become available, I jumped at the chance to begin an online teaching career.
The money isn’t bad either. In traditional schools in Arkansas, starting pay for teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no experience ranges from $31,400 to $35,000, though a few districts pay more. In the Virtual Arkansas program, starting pay for teachers with no experience is currently $37,540.
While attending Arkansas Tech University, roughly 57 of the 193 credit hours I completed were courses that I took online. Digital learning has been around for decades at the collegiate level, but it’s still relatively new at the secondary level.
I certainly never expected to love online teaching, let alone come to believe in its importance.
I’m now almost halfway through my second year of teaching social studies for Virtual Arkansas, and I appreciate it more than ever.
What Does a Virtual Teacher Do?
As our website explains,“Virtual Arkansas is an Arkansas-based program that is implemented through a partnership between the Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas Education Service Cooperatives. We provide an array of quality digital courses to public school students in Arkansas and utilize Arkansas licensed instructors. We are not an online high school or a diploma-granting institution. Rather, we’re a resource for supplementing education for public school students. Students who are enrolled in a public school may be enrolled in Virtual Arkansas courses by the local school administration.”
Online teaching, like any kind of differentiated education, can be executed well or poorly. It can be offered with or without a suitable amount of work for students.
I’ve come to understand that there are many stereotypes regarding online instruction. For example, it’s widely assumed that online learning is less demanding than more traditional methods. Based on my experience, I can say that is incorrect.
Benefits and Challenges of Online Teaching
I teach a variety of courses, including economics, sociology, world geography, and Arkansas history. Students often come to me after the first week or so feeling anxious about the subject matter, the amount of material, and the online course in general. I always try to make it clear that I’m there for them if they need help. I’ve noticed that feedback is crucial, as it helps them to understand both their strengths and their weaknesses.
As online education becomes more popular, adequate resources are becoming increasingly available. Plus, some amazing tools are being developed to help students benefit from the experience. I have access to a number of quizzes, games, and case studies that I use to keep my students engaged.
Now let me dispel another misconception regarding online learning: While I believe flexibility is important in virtual education, it doesn’t mean that there are no deadlines and that students can move through the material as they please. Flexibility is necessary when dealing with more than 250 school districts with different schedules, different rules, and students of different backgrounds. But we expect the students to stick to deadlines, just as they would in a regular classroom environment.
We’re Constantly Learning
A virtual teacher doesn’t live a lonely life. We’re not just stuck in front of our laptops. We share ideas and collaborate with other educators so that we’re constantly on top of our profession. I learn best when I both share my classroom experiences and hear about those of others. I love it when I can take away advice on how to do something better or differently; learn a new strategy to handle classroom management; or discover how to better incorporate a lesson or activity.
No matter where or what I teach, my goal is and always will be that my students acquire the content and, more importantly, learn the qualities they need to thrive in society after high school. I feel grateful to work in an environment that continues to provide opportunities for students to learn outside of a traditional classroom setting.