As an online educator, I do not always have the opportunity to truly appreciate what happens in a school building. It is one thing to teach quality lessons via Zoom, but there is a part of the school experience that I do not get to see on a regular basis. It is for this reason that I take time every few months to travel around the United States to meet with our schools and students to see how things are going from the “other” side. During my recent three-week trip, I visited more than twenty schools all over the country. While the visits were quite positive overall, it was clear that schools all over the country were all dealing with the international teacher shortage that is affecting both schools and students everywhere.
There are schools across the US that have actually been forced to close their doors due to a lack of staff. Part of this shortage can be blamed on COVID, and there are other reasons as well why we are in this situation. The bottom line is, that a lack of qualified educators means less options for our students. Most would agree that this is not a situation we can allow to continue. While there are many long-term strategies for increasing the amount of teachers, we need to face the reality that online learning may be part of the educational plan for years to come.
As with any other solution, the success of online learning usually has to do with the quality of the services being provided. Are the online teachers properly trained and supported? Is there strong communication between the teachers, the schools, the students, and the parents? At the height of COVID, many attempts at online learning fell flat due to these types of challenges. Like with most other things though, there is a good way and a bad way to do online courses.
For many of our schools, we have been the solution for those classes that do not have a qualified internal staffing option. When I observed Edu-Together classes in session, the students were for the most part engaged, participating, and most importantly, learning. When I spoke to the students and I asked them if they enjoyed the classes, almost all of the students answered “yes.” They explained that Edu-Together teachers actually know how to teach online. This was not always the case last year during COVID’s peak and is still not always the case when schools try to arrange their own online solutions. While online learning is not going to solve the world-wide teacher shortage, it can be used as a viable solution to current staffing needs. A qualified online teacher is still a better option than an unqualified local staff member. So, even though virtually all US schools are back to in-person learning, there is clearly still a place for online courses. One 11th grade student with whom I spoke told me how grateful she was that her school gave her the option to take her AP Physics course online. With a quality instructor, and great communication, she feels good about her chances on the AP exam.
If online learning still does not work for you, it may be time to face the reality. As a company, Edu-Together is sometimes referred to as the “best second choice.” This may sound like an odd way to market a business, but at the same time, we all know that every school prefers in-person teachers. The clear reality though is that this goal is not always possible. During COVID, schools all around the world were forced to rush into online classes without the training and support that is so essential to the success of this type of learning. It was no surprise when many online classes really didn’t work. I remember watching my own high school aged children trying to make it through a Zoom lesson. I wanted to sign in and show the teacher the basics, like the “mute” and “raise hand” buttons, breakout rooms, and the security options. My kids would not allow me to disrupt their class, but just watching this class in action for 5 minutes, and I knew that this teacher had not been properly trained. Unfortunately, there are still schools that are following this road. At Edu-Together we train our teachers in both the technical tools as well as in online pedagogy and teaching techniques. Most of the teachers with whom I have spoken were left to figure it out on their own, with no consistent help from their schools. This is not the path that will bring success.
The bottom line is that the current teacher shortage is not going anywhere. Online classes are certainly not the only solution to this problem, but for many of our students, learning online may be the difference between a solid, personalized education, and the alternatives. It is time for schools and districts to step up and realize that it is time to make online learning a viable option.
After visiting so many schools, I can say that I witnessed many online learning successes. Many of the students remarked how they look forward to their online class time. Other students admitted to a bit of an adjustment but are glad they stuck with it. While there is no such thing as a solution for everyone, it is clear that when done right, online learning can make the difference in a student’s education.