Talks with a Teacher

Talks With A Teacher

Theresa Akerley

School

South Burlington High School

Subjects

Spanish

Teaching Online

1 Year

Akerley’s Bitmoji Classroom

I now have more tricks up my sleeve for how to best reach students. 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.”

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.

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.  

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

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.”

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. 

Geoff Glaspie

School

Champlain Valley Union High School

Subjects

Math

Teaching Online

1 Year

“I felt this experience would ultimately make me a better teacher.”

Prior to this school year, Geoff Glaspie was serving as an Algebra and Geometry teacher at Champlain Valley Union High School. But, when his principal asked for volunteers to teach in the Collaborative School Option (CSO) program, which allowed teachers and students to teach and learn fully online with support from VTVLC, Glaspie seized the opportunity.

“I enjoy working with students one-on-one and feel that working with a more diverse collection of students from across the state would be interesting,” said Glaspie. “I also felt this experience would ultimately make me a better teacher.” Glaspie also wanted to ensure that CVU students who chose to learn fully remote would have access to a familiar face and a connection to their home school.

Since September, Glaspie has been teaching Algebra 2, Precalculus, and Calculus to Vermont students around the state through CVU’s VTVLC-supported virtual academy.

“Overall, I have developed as good or better relationships with students in online learning as in brick and mortar”

Glaspie says that online learning has helped him to better assess a student’s true understanding of the content, through assessments like Discussion Based Assessments (DBA’s) and other forms of assessment unique to online learning.

“I have learned how to better curate instruction to make it as clean and clear as possible,” said Glaspie. In order to grapple with the limited time he has to synchronously meet with students each week, Glaspie says he has had to be very efficient and effective with his instruction, and he’s gained knowledge about making lessons more engaging. “I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

Before teaching CSO for VTVLC Glaspie had some exposure to online teaching: during the emergency remote teaching period in spring 2020 that every Vermont teacher experienced, and as a student, Glaspie has taken two math classes through online instruction.

What Glaspie finds most surprising about online teaching is the great relationships that have come through his work with his students. “Overall, I have developed as good or better relationships with students in online learning as in brick and mortar,” Glaspie said.

Though, online teaching is not without its challenges. “I am also surprised how much work it takes to do online teaching well. It takes a lot of time, but I do enjoy it,” Glaspie said.

Additionally, Glaspie says he has had to cultivate a good work-life balance as part of teaching online. “It’s really easy, when one is committed 110% to students learning, to spend nights and weekends every week on giving actionable feedback, lesson planning, and providing additional activities/lessons to make the content more accessible to students,” Glaspie said.

Fortunately, Glaspie says math, his subject area, is well-suited to online teaching because students can show their work and attach pictures with relative ease, which helps Glaspie gain a deeper understanding of their proficiency. “It’s easy for me to create and post help and sample problem videos for them to use,” Glaspie said. “Tools like Jamboard, Desmos, Flipgrid make for usable platforms for mathematical discussions.”

Glaspie is currently taking courses in the Northeast Online Teaching Institute’s Adapted Certificate in Online Teaching Program and feels that the certificate will give him options in the future. “I suspect hybrid instruction could become more of a norm for secondary schools in the very near future,” Glaspie said.

Whether online or face-to-face, Glaspie is happy to see his students advance their skills. “I am impressed with the commitment I see in so many of my students,” Glaspie said. “I am also so happy to see that so many have honed their executive functioning skills, which will be so beneficial to them as they move beyond High School.”

Beth O’Connor

School

Retired
Previously: Essex High School

Subjects

Spanish

Teaching Online

10 years

“When I started Teaching, I had taken enough courses that I could see what difference the instructor makes in an online course. I could easily see myself in that role and I had had some good role models.”

I have been teaching Spanish for 18 years. My family moved to Mexico City when I was 9 years old, so I learned Spanish as a child. I love the language and hispanic cultures. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with my children until my youngest was in middle school. At that point, I started substitute teaching and eventually started teaching in a brick and mortar school. I taught Spanish I throught Spanish 5 at Essex High School until the June of 2019 when I retired. My youngest son was a student in one of my classes my first year of teaching. I am grateful that I have been able to continue teaching Spanish online through VTVLC.

I heard about VTVLC when it was first proposed and I couldn’t wait to get on the list to be a part of the program. I was, sadly, not able to be a part of the first cohort but I was able to join in year 2. I have always loved technology so taking online classes seemed like a great idea to me. At the time that VTVLC started, I was in the middle of earning a Master’s in Education online. I love being an online student. I enjoy the ablility 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 my self in that role and I had had some good role models.

“I think that 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. “

I think that 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. For students who have choronic illness, advanced athletic training, scheduling conflicts and some special learning needs, to name a frew circumstances, it has been essential. I love that we can meet those needs. I also love that I can develop relationships with my students in different ways to those that I in a classroom. I think that my studetns value responsiveness most of all. 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 on one time where I can give instruction or clarification or walk them through troubleshooting a computer problem. I feel that the OTS endorsement is very important to me. 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. It also ensures that the students taking an online course in Vermont can be sure that the instructor has demonstrated the necessary skills for teaching online.

There are some challenges to taking a language online. 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. Teaching studetns to become good language learners is what I see as part of my job. They need to be taught how to use the curriculum to enhance their progress in learning the language. I encourage students to spend lots of time on the recorded and written parts of the course as well as to take the time to supplement their learning by using other internet resources.

Rebecca Lowe

School

Lyndon Institute, Lyndon, VT

Subjects

AP Statistics
Geometry in Constructions
Algebra I
Personal Finance
Pre-Calculus

Teaching Online

15 years

“One of the biggest challenges is debunking the myths about online teaching and learning. Many inexperienced online teachers and traditional teachers believe that online teaching is less effective, less engaging, and less rigorous. In fact, online classes are as effective or even more effective than traditional face-to-face classes.”

For the past 15 years, I have been teaching online in some form, whether it be a blended course or completely asynchronous. I also have experienced being an online student as I earned my masters degree through an online program. I got involved in online teaching because​ I see myself as a lifelong learner and I want to model a growth mindset for my students. It is essential as a professional educator to keep up with the changes and developments in education. Online teaching was a way for me to improve and develop into a highly effective teacher.
One of the most important things I have learned is that online teaching is highly effective if you are willing to transcend traditional models of teaching and learning.
In addition to teaching online, I serve as a mentor to prospective and new online teachers. One of the biggest challenges is debunking the myths about online teaching and learning. Many inexperienced online teachers and traditional teachers believe that online teaching is less effective, less engaging, and less rigorous. In fact, online classes are as effective or even more effective than traditional face-to-face classes. Ultimately we want our students to take responsibility for their own learning and this is a benefit of online classes taught by well-trained, open-minded, and creative teachers within their discipline.

“One of the most important things I have learned is that online teaching is highly effective if you are willing to transcend traditional models of teaching and learning. “

Mathematics is well-suited for online teaching. Online math classes can be created so they are proficiency-based, highly-individualized, and adaptable to a student’s learning style.

Students have the flexibility to work at their own pace and at the times that suit them best.

Obtaining my Online Teaching Specialist endorsement was important to me. Formal training in best practices in online teaching and learning is necessary for student achievement. I was fortunate to have full support of my school. 

It is most important for my students to develop the skills necessary to be successful as online learners. These soft skills, like persistence, perseverance, self-direction, effective time management and communication skills, are also transferable and essential for success in life. 
An online student-centered learning environment is one where the focus of instruction is shifted from the teacher to the student, with the end goal of developing students who are autonomous and independent. As a result, the teacher takes on the roles of facilitator, mentor, and coach, This was a wonderful change from the traditional teaching roles.

I  absolutely love teaching online. It has undoubtedly made me a more effective teacher. Even after 20+ years of teaching, I am still energized, enthusiastic, and cherish my career as an educator. There are numerous benefits to being an online teacher and to being an online student. Every student should take an online class.

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