What I’ve Learned After Six Months Teaching Online

Many thanks to our partners at Great River Connections Academy, and specifically to Jessica Creager, Great River Connections Academy High School Social Studies Teacher for authoring this content.

It’s almost New Years, a time when I like to sit back and reflect on the past year. This year I decided to pursue a new job. Though in the same field – education – teaching at an online school was a new and different experience for me. It’s also been one of the most interesting and fulfilling experiences of my career!

Why, you may be wondering?

I’ve always had a love for history and had two teachers in high school who inspired me to pass it on by becoming an educator myself. I always appreciated the advice and support they gave me, and I wanted to one day make the same positive impression on my own students.

My career started three years ago in a traditional Columbus area classroom teaching high school social studies. I loved the experience and I learned so much from so many outstanding educators and some amazingly talented students.

Unfortunately, my position was changed and most of my second year was spent substitute teaching. While I loved my time in the classroom working with students, I needed to find something else.

This fall I joined the faculty at Great River Connections Academy, a new online public charter school that opened in August. I didn’t know a lot about teaching in a virtual classroom, but I was fascinated to start at a brand-new school and have the opportunity to work with others to build the school’s culture.

With the help, encouragement and feedback from some wonderful and dedicated colleagues, students and parents, I’ve been able to make the transition and to learn a lot about myself as an educator.

The truly unique thing is, while I’m new to this approach to learning, most of my students are too. So we all agreed at the start of the year to work together, ask each other questions and challenge each other every day.

While we are not in the same physical classroom together, Great River Connections Academy’s online platform offers chat pods to start conversations with my students. Before our live online classes begin, I’ll use a few general topics to gauge how engaged the students will be that day and then I’ll get into the material we need to cover. I realized this was pretty much the same dynamic as when I taught in the traditional classroom.

I am often asked by friends how I’m able to evaluate my students’ understanding of the material and if they are truly learning. I tell them students can and do learn in the online environment just like in a traditional classroom. The students turn in assignments and are required to show their work. The difference comes in my interaction with students – I often have phone conversations or online sessions with each student to discuss the material one-on-one. I can tell right then if they have done the work and understand the concepts, or if they need more direction or intervention.

I know from my experiences in both a traditional and an online classroom that all students learn differently. Some students are strong individual learners and can work at their own pace. Some students need more time to understand the material or a specific subject. In the online environment the students have the flexibility to move ahead or to take more time, which isn’t always the case in a traditional classroom.

Students come to our online school for many different reasons. Some need that more individualized approach or a more flexibility because of outside activities such as sports or performing arts. Others need an environment that is safer or less distracting. One of my students came to Great River Connections Academy because he had to miss a lot of school due to a medical issue. His plan is to stay with us until he can get caught up and then move back to his original school.

As long as we understand that every student learns differently or has different needs, they should have the opportunity to attend school wherever they are able to succeed – whether that classroom is traditional or online. I’m excited to continue this online journey with my students.

Great River Connections Academy is Ohio’s newest online public charter school, offering students in grades K-12 across the state a high-quality, personalized education that combines state-certified teachers and a proven curriculum.