What It's Like to Teach at a Cyber Charter School
There are hundreds of cyber charter school teachers across the state. You may be considering joining our ranks; however, there are so many questions people have about what it is like to teach at a cyber charter school! If you have a curiosity about making the leap, you may be asking yourself things like, “How do cyber teachers connect with their students?” or “How is teaching virtually different from teaching in a traditional brick and mortar school?”
Well, sit back, reheat that coffee for the billionth time, and read on.
In this post, I’m going to share with you what it’s like to teach at a cyber school, including the benefits (yay) and challenges (sigh) of teaching virtually.
Engaging with Students
As educators, we know that one of the most vital components of setting our class climate is student engagement. You may be wondering, “How can I engage my students in a virtual setting?” There are so many tools available to the cyber teacher, from webcams to whiteboards. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these tools of engagement, starting with the webcam.
First, using the webcam is a simple, yet effective tool of engagement. As a teacher, you can look at your students and have a virtual face-to-face discussion about what they are learning. Likewise, students are able to interact with one another and build relationships. For example, a kindergarten teacher will facilitate a show-and-tell around a letter of the alphabet. The students engage in sharing with each other their special object, all the while developing relationship skills such as taking turns speaking.
Furthermore, the webcam is a great tool for modeling and scaffolding student learning. Students can show their work in real-time, and you can provide authentic, immediate feedback to the students. Moreover, using a document camera is a great way to engage students and have them work alongside you with manipulatives, models, and other hands-on learning opportunities.
Next, don’t underestimate the power of the chatbox. The chatbox is a useful tool, not only for engagement, but for classroom management as well. For example, a first grade teacher has 10 students eager to participate and share their answers. To reinforce the classroom expectation of one person talking at a time, and to decrease call-outs, the teacher will direct students to enter their responses in the chatbox. The teacher then can recognize and positively reinforce the students who answered in the chatbox. Additionally, there is an opportunity to check for understanding and provide feedback to the students. Since chats are recorded, the teacher has anecdotal data on student performance. It’s a win-win situation!
Let’s return to that aspect of class climate. How can a teacher determine if students are practicing being kind and encouraging one another? That’s where the emoticons come into action! Emoticons are a safe, non-threatening tool for the students to use to express their emotions. For example, students can enter a high-five, hug, or smile emoticon to support a classmate who is trying a new skill. For example, in a second-grade classroom, students are blending together words with complex phonetic patterns. To support each other, students can enter a thumbs-up or another positive emoticon to cheer their classmates along. This fosters a climate of respect, support, and friendship.
Videos are yet another mode of student engagement. YouTube is your friend! By embedding short video clips, you can unlock a student’s knowledge about a subject, or use it as a “hook” for the lesson.
Additionally, involving the students in kid-created videos is an excellent way to engage and motivate students. For example, a kindergarten class is celebrating the 50th day of school. The teacher assigns students numbers, 1-50, and attaches number outlines from 0-9. Parents print out the numbers that are assigned and send the teacher a video of the student saying and holding up their number. The teacher then compiles all the student videos and shares the video with the students on the 50th day of school. What an awesome hands-on learning experience!
The digital whiteboard is another simple tool to use to engage students. Several programs allow for PDFs to be uploaded. From there, students can write, draw, and type in real-time. A benefit of using a digital whiteboard is that all the markups are recorded for the students (or the teacher) for review.
A word of wisdom: success is contingent with setting firm and clear expectations. Just as in a traditional brick and mortar setting, cyber school teachers need to set expectations, model, practice, and reinforce expected routines and procedures for responsibly using these tools of engagement.
By using all of the engagement tools as outlined above, a cyber school teacher has a multitude of options for all students to actively participate in class. Participation in class leads to building relationships with the students. Having a strong rapport with students and families affords a greater opportunity for academic growth.
Benefits of Teaching Online
The ability to work remotely and having flexibility in work-space is one of the chief benefits of teaching online. Imagine not having a mind-numbing commute, or for that matter becoming numb when you have to de-ice the car on a freezing February morning. Once it is time to log off, teachers can go outside and enjoy some crisp fall weather before it gets dark at 5:30!
There’s no chance of doing that when a long commute is involved. Having a flexible work-space translates into office days spent on your back patio, or anywhere you are comfortable and productive.
Teaching online offers a work-life balance. As mentioned previously, gone are the days of commuting. The lack of a lengthy commute could afford you more productive work time, which allows you to create enriching and engaging lessons. Since the online teacher’s work environment is one of safety and familiarity, there is less mental stress on you, the teacher, thus allowing you to do what you do best: interact with students, guide them to learn, and foster growth.
Furthermore, online teachers have opportunities for professional growth and development. Virtual teachers are consistently learning cutting-edge technology and platforms to enhance students’ learning experiences. Teachers are often allowed to pilot new programs before they are released to the general public. Moreover, teachers develop new strategies to grow their professional practice, such as implementing direct phonics instruction to a group of struggling elementary readers.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of being a cyber teacher is gaining experience teaching a diverse class of students that reside all over the state. Each pocket of Pennsylvania has its own culture and the different student demographics that really add a layer of cultural diversity to the classroom.
Challenges of Teaching Online
Admittedly, there are a handful of challenges that the virtual teacher may encounter from time-to-time. Keeping students engaged and interested in the lesson has the potential to be difficult. Always try to keep teaching material fresh and your attitude upbeat.
Just as in a traditional brick and mortar setting, cyber school teachers need to ensure that parents are involved and supporting their students at home each day. Fortunately, the online teacher is never alone. There’s a team of support personnel and professional colleagues to help support you, so, in turn, you can help the student and family be successful members of the school community.
Parents are never alone either. The Parent Ambassador Program helps new families learn “the ropes,” and veteran families can be a source of encouragement to the new families.
Consider this situation: a teacher has had a challenging time contacting a parent regarding student attendance. The teacher tapped into her team of Family Support Coordinators, the Orientation Team, and the Guidance Department to help get this parent and student on the right track. The parent is now thriving in the Parent Ambassador Program and the student has excellent attendance.
Remember, at a cyber charter school, it’s all about partnerships for growth and success. Families and educators alike will always find support when support is asked for!
Advice for Prospective Teachers and Parents
Teachers; if you’re considering continuing your professional practice with a cyber charter school, then take the leap! There are lots of supports and resources in place to help you transition to teaching virtually. Plus, there are many benefits and opportunities for growth both professionally and personally.
Parents; if you’re considering cyber charter school for your child, please don’t hesitate to give it a chance. The model may benefit your student in great ways, ways that you’d never know unless you provide the opportunity for them!
Chiefly, as a cyber school parent, your partnership is crucial to student success, no matter the grade level. You are your child’s greatest influence!
I sincerely hope this blog provides you with a solid understanding of what it is like to teach at a cyber charter school. There are certainly benefits and challenges that come with it, however I firmly believe that the benefit of helping a child grow outweighs any challenge you may encounter.
Are you considering teaching at a cyber charter school? Check out our Careers page to view all of the current openings at PA Virtual.
About the Author: Heather Alcott is a kindergarten teacher at PA Virtual.