Beth O’Connor has been teaching Spanish for 18 years. As a child, O’Connor’s family moved to Mexico City, so she began learning Spanish from a young age.   “I love the language and hispanic cultures,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor’s teaching career, however, didn’t begin to take shape until later. “I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with my children until my youngest was in middle school,” O’Connor said. “At that point I started substitute teaching and eventually started teaching in a brick and mortar school.”

“Online learning is such an important option for learners today. I think that it has been the only solution for some of the students that I have taught.”

O’Connor taught Spanish 1 through Spanish 5 at Essex High School until June of 2019, at which point she retired. “My youngest son was a student in one of my classes my first year of teaching,” O’Connor said. “I am grateful that I have been able to continue teaching Spanish online through VTVLC.”

O’Connor heard about Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative while it was being established and joined the second cohort of teachers to teach for VTVLC. “I couldn’t wait to get on the list to be a part of the program,” O’Connor said. “I have always loved technology, so taking online classes seemed like a great idea to me.”

At the time that VTVLC started, O’Connor was in the middle of earning a Master’s in Education online. “I love being an online student,” O’Connor said. “I enjoy the ability to pace my learning to my life and learning needs.  When I started teaching, I had taken enough courses that I could see what a difference the instructor makes in an online course.  I could easily see myself in that role and I had had some good role models.”

O’Connor went through the Online Teaching Specialist endorsement process before teaching at VTVLC, a requirement for online teachers in Vermont. “I feel that the fact that Vermont has this endorsement acknowledges that there is an understanding about the nature of online teaching and learning that is important and valued,” O’Connor said. “It also ensures that students taking an online course in Vermont can be sure that the instructor has demonstrated the necessary skills for teaching online.”

However, there are unique challenges involved with learning languages online. O’Connor encourages students to spend lots of time on the recorded and written parts of the course, as well as supplementing their learning by using other internet resources. “The process of language learning is unique to other disciplines in that the learner needs to spend a good deal of time listening, and reading so that they can learn to write and speak it,” O’Connor said. “Teaching students to become good language learners is what I see and part of my job. They need to be taught how to use the curriculum to enhance their progress in learning the language.” 

O’Connor cherishes the relationships she’s developed with her online students, which she sees as unique from the relationships she developed in a traditional classroom. “I think that my students value responsiveness most of all,” O’Connor said. “They like to feel that they can get their questions answered or problems solved quickly. I also think that both my students and I appreciate that they can get one -to-one time where I can give instruction or clarification or walk them through troubleshooting a computer problem.”

For O’Connor, online learning can be a way to reach students that have few options in traditional classroom settings. “Online learning is such an important option for learners today,” O’Connor said. “I think that it has been the only solution for some of the students that I have taught. For students who have chronic illness, advanced athletic training, scheduling conflicts and some special learning needs, to name a few circumstances, it has been essential. I love that we can meet those needs.”

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