In the Spring of 2011 I was able to participate in a pilot program where I could complete part of my practicum through Florida Virtual School and the other part in the traditional classroom. The reality of education today is that online education is becoming a more and more popular option for students for a variety of reasons. Schools are finding that offering online classes of less popular sections is more cost effective. In addition the online environment is an extremely effective option for students who can succeed in a less traditional environment.
During my time working with a middle school beginning Spanish class, I worked with a student who was taking the class from Italy because their father was there with the military. I met FLVS teachers who had worked with students online to help them achieve their high school diplomas from home while dealing with terminal illnesses. I also found that for some students with social disorders, FLVS was an option that allowed them to be successful as well.
I learned so much from my time with FLVS–and in particular, two incredibly valuable concepts. First, I was able to witness first hand how a system of constant communication between the student, teacher, and the family create success and accountability for all parties involved. FLVS has policies and standards in place that require documented communications between the three parties involved. Unlike in the traditional classroom, almost every communication is personally addressed to the student which helps establish personal rapport and a real relationship. The teacher communicates with each parent regularly, and in fact, if the teacher does not contact the parent after a certain amount of time, the student is prevented from continuing in the course. This system holds students accountable to their parents and their teachers; it holds the parents accountable to the teacher and the student; and it holds the teacher accountable to the parents and the students.
Secondly, I learned how to provide effective, encouraging feedback to students. I cannot emphasize how monumental this learning was for me. College teaches theory, but this experience gave me practice. I learned that students need to know: 1.) What they did well, and 2.) How they can improve. Believe me, sometimes its hard to tell a student who scored a 0/20 what they did well, but it forced me to take a look at the student’s thinking process and realize, “Ok. They are getting the first step of this, but they need to practice of this…”. Feedback is more than a Star or a Stamp or an X. Feedback should build students up and help them grow–no matter their ability level. Even an A student has room to improve.
I had a wonderful experience with FLVS and it helped me develop a new appreciation for teaching in the online environment. The burning question is: What do I like better: teaching online or teaching in the classroom? Honestly, it is hard to say. In fact, it is impossible to say. I love FLVS for the relationships it helps build and the success it allows non-traditional students to have. Nothing can replace the feeling to helping a student who needs a different type of environment succeed. On the other hand, my greatest joys in my college career and in my internship have been: 1.) developing my own lessons and curriculum (which is something FLVS teachers do not do) and 2.) personally and physically teaching. I love that tired feeling I have at the end of the day from the mental, emotional and physical involvement of teaching. As I have heard it said, “It is the hardest job I have ever wanted to go back to.”
As I said, it is tough to say which I enjoy more. I feel like there is a real place in education for both of these, and there is a place for me in either one of these environments.