Teaching is an incredibly rewarding profession. The opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life is deeply fulfilling. For many, however, including ourselves, the passion for teaching has been challenged by the evolving demands of the job. A dedicated online school made all the difference.
Over the past 18 years, we have taught students in traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms; we’ve been substitute teachers in several different schools, including an alternative school for struggling teens; and we’ve been private tutors for a handful of students during COVID-19. We’ve taught in very small rural schools and larger urban and suburban schools. This past fall we switched to teaching for statewide virtual public charter schools — and we were blown away by what we found.
Finding career satisfaction once again
Like many of our peers today, we had been contemplating leaving the teaching profession altogether. Simply put, we were burned out, and we knew we were not alone. An alarming amount of research, including a May 2023 report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, points to a growing teacher shortage fueled by stress and anxiety over safety. Fortunately for us, we discovered online school, and the rewards of teaching remotely.
Moving to an online school and online teaching has rejuvenated our careers and helped us fall back in love with our profession. At our respective virtual schools, we’ve been able to realize the joys of teaching while gaining much-needed balance between our personal and professional lives.
More time for students — and our own families
As many teachers will share, a day of teaching in a traditional classroom — complete with lessons, lunch or bus duty, recess, after-school events and disciplinary issues — leaves little left to give to ourselves and our own families. While we embraced the bustling excitement of working in-person with our students, we realized our work-life balance was off, and we wanted more. Teachers need to know that it is OK to want more.
Since we started teaching online, our quality of life has improved dramatically. The online school day is structured very differently than that of traditional school. Time is built in for preparing lessons and grading, and no time is required for the aforementioned lunch and bus duty or maintaining order in the hallways. There is the added bonus of working from home — no more commuting.
While salaries for online school teachers, benefits and the presence of a union vary from state to state and school to school, salaries at online schools may be lower than those of a traditional school, but the job is also very different.
What a difference an online school day makes
Teaching online gives us the flexibility to influence our schedules, and we are able to work more efficiently. We no longer have to worry about when (or if) we’ll get a break to use the bathroom or grab a snack. Our jobs are full-time and our hours are typically from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. We meet biweekly or monthly with our students, but students can schedule 1-to-1 meetings, any time it’s convenient for both of us, to go over assignments, get extra help with their schoolwork or talk about school and their education overall.
When it comes to family time, we are indeed finding the time we desperately needed to spend with our loved ones and on the activities we enjoy. Erica just published her first novel, and Kelly even found the time to join a women’s professional tackle football league! Balance is possible.
What’s more, and most important, we have found that we’re better able to meet our students’ needs. Less time on classroom management means more time for quality instruction. And with fewer administrative tasks to worry about, we can give students our undivided attention, connecting by phone, email or in breakout rooms on a frequent basis.
Creating grace and space for online students
Some teachers might dismiss the idea of teaching online based on the experience they had during COVID-19. However, teaching online for an intentionally designed virtual school program is nothing like adhering to a traditional bell schedule on Zoom, which is how emergency online learning unfolded during the pandemic.
While we do have live class sessions, these aren’t held every day. Our virtual classroom is also highly interactive, and the tools we use enable students to participate fully in lessons and collaborate with their peers.
The biggest challenge we faced in moving to online instruction was figuring out how to build and maintain relationships with students in a virtual environment. It’s hard not to “see” your students every day. However, our students chose online learning for a reason.
Many students prefer to communicate online rather than face-to-face. We have created strong relationships with students through texting, email, phone calls and LiveLessons, and we also have field trips throughout the year that give us a chance to meet our students in person. The online schools that employ us are statewide public schools (complete with school boards, proms, graduations, mascots and more) that draw students from all over the state. And while students connect online, it’s always great to see them bond during our in-person events.
Some may think of online education as being impersonal, but we have found it to be just the opposite. Having the ability to connect with students one-on-one more frequently is a big advantage. We’re personalizing lessons, working in small groups and getting to know families in ways we’ve never experienced before.
We love watching each student learn at their own pace. More advanced learners can move ahead when they’re ready, while those who struggle can spend more time on a subject. Learning in this environment gives students grace and space, so they become more confident learners.
A life-changing experience
The idea of teaching with technology might seem intimidating for some teachers. However, we’ve found that you don’t have to be a whiz at technology to be successful. At our online schools, which use the Connections Academy online school program, we have received all of the training, tools and support that we’ve needed.
If you’re at risk of becoming a statistic among those leaving the teaching profession, our advice would be to talk with a teacher from an online school. Teaching online has truly been a life-changing experience for us. The flexibility we have allows us to show up for our students, our families and ourselves. We’re both so glad we made the leap, and we don’t plan to go anywhere else soon.
Erica Hannah is an English teacher at Great River Connections Academy in Ohio. Kelly Schaeffer is an English teacher at Willamette Connections Academy in Oregon.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.