6 Reasons Year-Round Virtual School Teachers Deserve a Gold Star


6 Reasons Virtual School Teachers Deserve a Gold Star

Almost all teachers have made an unexpected move to remote teaching due to Covid-19. All eyes have been on the thousands of teachers suddenly learning to teach in a new way. However, online learning isn’t new for tens of thousands of students and teachers. In the 2017 – 2018 school year 297,712 students attended 501 full-time virtual schools and another 132,960 students attended a blended model. That was an increase of over 2,000 full-time students and 16,000 blended students from the preceding school year. However, virtual school teachers are often left out of conversations about education. Here are some reasons they all deserve our respect.

1. They deal with people thinking they aren’t “real” teachers.

Virtual school teachers have degrees, certifications, and experience, just like their colleagues teaching in brick and mortar buildings. They are definitely “real” teachers – and their schools are “real,” too. However, they often receive jabs – even from other teachers – that they don’t work as hard or aren’t as meaningful as their counterparts who have physical classrooms. Rheanna teaches 9th grade English and gothic literature at a Pennsylvania cyber-charter school. She’s been teaching online for ten years and is confident her students are getting a great educational experience. 

She says, “I really love teaching virtually. I have students with incredibly diverse backgrounds, which I really enjoy learning about. I like to describe my setting as a school without walls. I can share my screen, we watch videos, play PowerPoint games, fill in worksheets together, etc. like I would do in front of my class in a traditional setting. The only difference is that we’re doing all of those things separated by distance.”

The experience simply isn’t that different from traditional school settings. “We’re still all together, still learning, and still sharing every experience traditional schools have. My school has many different clubs and activities for students, and we host over 500+ field trips throughout the year for students to attend.” Rheanna says.

2. They understand many students have turned to virtual school to ease a stressful situation.

Students and families choose virtual school for a variety of reasons, according to Rheanna, including:

  • Medical/mental health issues: Many students with medical issues find the virtual school model much easier to handle. Traditional schools are not always accommodating with frequent absences, even with medical documentation. Virtual schools provide greater flexibility for students who are sometimes too sick or tired to attend a full day outside of the home. 
  • Bullying at a previous school: Unfortunately, some students are bullied to the point that attending virtual school from home feels like the only safe option.
  • Being a teen parent:  Some teen parents switch to virtual school so they can graduate while caring for a baby. 
  • Learning or behavioral differences: An at-home, virtual school setting is simply a better environment for some students, providing them the best chance at success. 
  • Financial issues: Some high school students work full-time jobs to help provide for their families and need a flexible school schedule. 
  • Travel: There are families who travel full time, either for work or because they’ve chosen a nomadic lifestyle. 
  • Hobbies and passions: There are students pursuing theatre, music, surfing, drama, and more. Virtual schools allow them the flexibility to pursue their goals. 
  • Family crisis: Students attend virtual school in response to divorce, death, and other family crises. 

Rheanna adds, “One of my favorite things about teaching virtually is when we see a student literally be ‘put back together’ in our setting. Many students come to us searching for different things. Whatever leads them to us, we are able to build and foster our relationships with them and connect with them in a way that the time constraints and privacy of a regular classroom just don’t allow.”

3. They get creative to bond with students.

Lily is a Florida Spanish teacher with a virtual classroom. She found the best way to get to know her students was by taking the time to ask questions during the initial introduction call. She asks their reasons for taking the class and what they want to get out of it. She also asks their interests outside of school and then explains how learning Spanish might help them with that.

Rheanna likes bonding with students over how unique it is that they’re all doing school at home. She invites them to all join her for class sessions from their living room couches as she sits on hers. Inviting students to see a part of their teacher’s life at home helps them to see there’s a real person behind the screen. This makes it easier for students to connect to the teacher, which makes them more likely to engage in the learning process. 

4. They are effective communicators. 

Virtual school class rosters are often quite a bit larger than what traditional classroom teachers are assigned. This means communicating effectively is crucial to keep everyone on track. Virtual teachers are making dozens of phone calls and emails to students and parents each day. It’s important to have organized schedules and calendars, as well as detailed communication logs. 

In a virtual classroom setting, it’s important to keep emails short and use bullet points to best communicate with her students and their parents. “If an email has more than two paragraphs, you’ve probably included too much text and it won’t be read,” says Rheanna. Keeping emails short and concise saves time and frustration from answering dozens of questions that were covered in the long email that took you hours to thoughtfully craft, but no one actually read.

5. They are extremely flexible.

Due to the wide variety of special circumstances that bring students to a virtual school setting, online teachers are extra flexible, empathetic and compassionate. They frequently have last-minute appointment cancellations or no shows. They try to maintain an organized calendar, but rescheduling lessons, meetings, due dates, and testing is a daily occurrence. 

They’ve practiced these skills with the Covid-19 crisis. Rheanna says, “We’ve had to make adjustments, deciding how to rearrange and reassign lessons while still being lenient for our students who may be struggling.”  Lily adds, “It’s always good to consider Maslow before Bloom. If students are not safe or financially stable they cannot connect or think about academics.” 

6. The work/home balance is especially tricky.

Since one of the big perks of most virtual schools is the flexible hours, virtual teachers often work long hours to provide this flexibility. Office hours for parents and students to call often extend to 8 p.m. and online lessons and study groups are often held on weekends and evenings. Virtual school teachers have to work extra hard to maintain a work/homelife balance. Rheanna says setting work hours and sticking to them is essential. “Turn off alerts, stay away from the computer, and set your phone to ‘do not disturb.’  Your students and their questions will be there tomorrow.” 

They do all of this without onsite tech support or free bagel breakfasts. Virtual teachers, we see you and we appreciate you! 

Also Read:

6 Reasons Year-Round Virtual School Teachers Deserve a Gold Star


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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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