Back to the Brick and Mortar

From 2004-2008, I was a stay-at-home virtual school teacher. 

I was a full-time high school English teacher for one of the largest and most esteemed virtual schools in the United States. Published school statistics include more than 90 National Board Certified teachers (myself included) and the year I left, I believe, we issued 80,000 credits.  It is a bit daunting. Most students are from one particular state but many other students enroll through the global services division for profit. I was an adjunct for two years before going full time. It is a public school but with a corporate structure, for example, no union and one-year contracts. I will blog some on my association with this entity but mostly stick to my return to a traditional school setting.

It is rare that one has an opportunity to return to a previous version of a vocation (Classroom 1.0). For the first few months, I had to actively, intentionally, and thoughtfully select curriculum, technology, policies, strategies, best practices, and instructional design to best fit the culture, students, and standards of my new school. Too often public school teaching is done on the fly. For the most part, this blog reflects on contemporary teaching. What engages learners? How might I build communities? What killer apps should I introduce to my students to prepare them for the world of work or higher learning?   

I left my virtual teaching job with some remorse because it was truly a vanguard establishment. Some people may think I was crazy to leave a teaching job with the flexibility to work from my living room with a cat on my lap, to go to the bathroom when I pleased, and to take a nap if I needed a break. Yes, I worked in pajamas!  However, the reasons I returned to the Brick and Mortar are threefold. 


The loneliness was crippling. My husband returned each day from his challenging public high school job exhausted but purposeful and connected to his peers and his students. My children returned from their highly functioning public schools after a full day of excellent teaching, interaction, community, and face-to-face communication. About 60% of my job was over the phone so I spoke to, spoke at, and left messages a good part of my day. I missed standing in the hallway with my students asking about haircuts, dates, sports, music, and fashion. I missed teacher mailboxes, lunch tables, the parking lot, and even faculty meetings where I could sit by a friend and pass notes. I missed acting out stories, reading aloud, and creating my own curriculum. I missed teachable moments and spontaneous opportunities to connect with teenagers. I know I was an effective virtual school teacher because my survey results were high, my statistics good, and my VS students told me so.  As I completed most students, they or their parents asked, “Do you teach any more classes?” I liked what I did.  I had opportunities to connect with peers and students by IM, Elluminate (a now-defunct synchronous e-learning presentation tool, for a list of current eLearning tools, here is a link), tri-annual face-to-face meetings, and daily chats with co-teachers. It was just not the same, for me, as real live people.


The salary was too low. I had moved to a different state and the local salaries and benefits were much more generous here. With two kids heading to college in the next few years and a nationwide recession looming, I would be crazy not to take an opportunity to bring a huge pay raise into the family coffers. The state from which I moved was in serious recession and even the cost-saving virtual school was seeing hits. Two fewer months in which to make the yearly credit goal, cutbacks on bonuses, more reconfigurations of staff and fewer face-to-face meetings were on the horizon. Many of my peer VS teachers had young families. When you factor childcare into the mix, teaching for the VS was a wonderful way to have it all– career and quality time with your kids. Paying for daycare when my kids were young was cost prohibitive.

The 24-hour Job

The workday did not stop. When a student called, I learned to answer that phone especially if it was a student I had been haranguing to submit work. He or she needed me right then and my family, my meal, and my activity needed to be delayed or rescheduled. The job did not stop. Vacation time followed the corporate model so traditional-school teachers have more time to rejuvenate themselves away from the workplace with their families.