VTVLC Talks with A Teacher – Theresa Akerley

Theresa Akerley, a biology teacher with VTVLC’S CSO program, never expected to teach online. “Online teaching has been an experience I probably would have never signed up for,” Akerley said. “But I’m thrilled that the circumstances provided the opportunity and experience.”

Akerley teaches at South Burlington High School, but this year, she’s taught Biology and Anatomy and Physiology to students throughout Vermont as part of VTVLC’s collaborative school option (CSO) program, which allows students at South Burlington High School to learn remotely through a VTVLC-supported virtual academy. 

Theresa Akerley pictured working from her home.

“Good teaching and pedagogy knows no boundaries and translates from in-person to online”

It would have been difficult for Akerley to teach in a face-to-face classroom this year because of her hearing loss. “For the last 12 years, I’ve supported this invisible disability by relying on my hearing aid and lip reading,” Akerley said. “With the universal use of masks, I am unable to lip read and hearing is extremely difficult, especially when distanced from the speaker.”  Online teaching, she says, provided the opportunity to teach in a new format and still support students during a unique school year. 

Prior to this school year, Akerley’s experiences with online learning consisted of her own work as a student in a graduate program at UVM: she takes courses through UVM’s Public Health Program are all online.  “Being a student in an online course and fully online program has been a hugely helpful experience in designing systems for my students to be successful with online learning,” Akerley said. 

Akerley says, due to online learning, she’s not the same teacher she was years ago. “I now have more tricks up my sleeve for how to best reach students,” Akerley said. “The experiences I’ve gained learning alongside students in the online platform have been a slow accumulation of wealth in the knowledge of students’ learning preferences, social and emotional learning, and communication strategies that help us all feel more connected.”

Akerley’s bitmoji classroom.

What does a typical day look like for Akerley? “There is a common misconception about how the work time translates from brick and mortar to online,” she said. “Thursday is science day and I host  synchronous sessions for all the courses.  However, every day of the week, I have office hours with students, 1:1 meetings with students/support staff/special educators, virtual meetings with other teachers, grading, and also resource development like creating and recording materials and videos for each course.”

Akerley has found that organization, layout of course materials, assessments, and resources, as well as setting expectations have been key to her students’ success. “Once students feel and understand the consistency of the format, learning can become more predictable, enjoyable, and a positive experience for them,” Akerley said. 

With respect to how her area of expertise, biology, translates to the online classroom, Akerley has been pleasantly surprised. “I think there is a great benefit to hands-on lab practice and experiential learning in the classroom lab space,” Akerley said. “That being said, I’ve been impressed by the virtual labs and other activities which guide students through inquiry based learning online.”

Akerley is also working to earn an OTS endorsement through the Certificate in Online Teaching Program with the Northeast Online Teaching Institute. The program, she says, has been useful in helping her design a virtual classroom and experience for her students. But, Akerley also thinks the options for students are forever changed. “I think this endorsement is going to prove itself incredibly useful as education continues to be dynamic and educators work to design multiple pathways for students to successfully reach varying educational goals,” Akerley said. 

Akerley says she’s been surprised by the similarities between the feedback she received at her brick-and-mortar school and the feedback she’s received since teaching through a VTVLC virtual academy. “Good teaching and pedagogy knows no boundaries and translates from in-person to online,” Akerley said. 

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