Teaching Award Finalist Reflects Upon Heroic Profession

Teachers’ insight reminds us to appreciate the hard work, planning and creativity that keep students learning.  This week we host guest blogger Dan Wakefield, an Ohio Connections Academy teacher who was also a finalist in our 2013 Annual Pioneer of Teaching Award competition.  As Dan reflects on what drove him to the teaching profession and how e-learning meets the needs of it students, we recall a key fact: Although teachers may not don capes, to many parents they are nevertheless heroes.

Below is Dan’s post – thanks for your hard work and for sharing your thoughts:

Teaching is often described as a calling.  For me, I would say this description is accurate because, aside from that brief time in early elementary school when my career goal was to become Batman, teaching has always been the only career choice for me.  Although I always knew that I would be a teacher when I grew up, a couple of decades ago, the idea of being a teacher for a virtual school would have sounded as plausible as becoming the Caped Crusader.

I first learned of eschooling in 2008, when I returned to Ohio following teaching in a brick and mortar setting for three years in Nevada.  The idea of being a teacher in an online environment was enticing, especially as I recalled what I had learned about effective teaching in my college teacher preparation program. Eschooling seemed to make many of these teaching essentials logistically possible, something that I could not necessarily say was true in my brick and mortar environment.  Over the past four years as a teacher in an eschool, I can speak firsthand of its benefits.  To me, these include:

·         Individualization:  Teaching in an online environment allows me to meet my students where they are academically.  Instead of having a group of thirty students for a set amount of time, I am able to tailor my instruction to meet the needs of the students I teach.  I am afforded the opportunity to work one-on-one, or in small groups, with students and I can develop more challenging lessons for those students who are advanced.

·         Attentiveness to Diverse Learning Styles:  Within my lessons, I am able to incorporate music, video clips, cooperative groupings, and additional resources like outlines or graphic organizers.  This allows the student to use those resources that best fit how they learn and remember the material.  The distinction here is that instead of bringing the students to the lesson, I am now bringing the lesson to the students.

·         Technology:  In college, the emphasis was on helping students develop 21st century skills.  This is one of the benefits of eschooling that I think is often overlooked- the opportunity for students to develop their technological skills.  By using the computer and various software programs, students are developing these technical skills simultaneous to learning the course content.

·         Data-Driven Instruction:  Using data to drive instruction has been seen as essential, whether through the State Department of Education rankings for schools or in an individual classroom with teachers using formative assessment techniques.  I know as a brick and mortar teacher, collecting this data and then analyzing it was time consuming and, by the end of the school day, difficult.  Eschooling has much of this data collected and organized for the teacher, with the teacher being able to run reports for immediate access to data to help form their instruction.

·         Parents as Partners:  Eschooling has also enabled me to become closer with the parents of the students I teach.  In my brick and mortar environment, conferences could happen before or after school.  The frequency of conferences was also limited.  In an online environment, I could have a conference with a parent much more frequently.  In education, I think sometimes the relationship between teachers and parents is not utilized as it should.  I have learned so much about my students from simply talking to their parents.

I have greatly enjoyed teaching in an online environment and have recognized its benefits.  I have witnessed firsthand how it has been the environment in which many students have flourished.  From time to time, I still encounter some resistance to this learning model and misconceptions about this learning environment.  I have learned that, just like Batman, we can be misunderstood.  However, all teachers are deserving of respect because, at the end of the day, we all enter this profession to make a difference and to move our students forward.

Although we might not have the Bat Signal or drive an awesome car, we are often fighting those social villains- poverty, disenfranchisement, funding shortages – to make this monumental goal a reality.  For some students, teachers are real-life superheroes.  As teachers, we need to remember this.  Student success needs to be our focus.  We need to be mindful that, after all, Batman and Robin didn’t bicker over who got to drive the Batmobile.