Nearly 1 million students were enrolled in online courses last year, and some researchers predict that half of all public education courses will be delivered online by 2019. It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that this is an area where opportunities can be expected to grow for educators.
We recently talked to Kristine Diener, principal of iQ Academy Wisconsin in Waukesha, Wisc., about what virtual schools look for in teachers. iQ Academy Wisconsin is a virtual high school and a network member of iQ Academies, which specialize in distance learning for middle and high school students. The academy currently employs 37 teachers, including part-time and contract hires.
What characteristics and qualifications do you look for in a teacher?
Content experts. We teach a variety of subjects to our students. Putting that aside, we also look for someone who is very student-centered, flexible, and willing to be a risk-taker, because it’s still a pretty new way of doing education. We can teach the technology to anyone. It’s really the personal characteristics and the willingness to turn relationships [with students] into coaching relationships.
What are some unique challenges to teaching at an online school?
Time management—it’s hard to carve out an appropriate amount of time for each thing. There isn’t the traditional stand-and-deliver in front of a whole class format, so it becomes more of a challenge to find ways to meet individual needs. Our full-time teachers work from home and the borderline between when they work and when they don’t work becomes fuzzy. Just as online learning requires a lot more discipline, so does online teaching.
It’s also about not overextending yourself in terms of what you promise. One of the things we recommend to new staff is to first be an online learner. We recommend getting some experience being on the other side of the lectern so they understand the unique needs of being an online student. Teaching and learning online—that’s a huge paradigm shift for some people.
What sort of compensation and benefits are offered to teachers?
Teachers are compensated the same way brick-and-mortar teachers are compensated. But with brick-and-mortar schools, they suspend classes if enrollment isn’t high enough. In our program, if we have five kids, we have an agreement with the teachers association that we will pay per pupil. It’s like working with kids on an independent study. Some of our teachers work part-time for us and have positions in traditional schools in the district. Another benefit of our program is that these teachers often use online teaching methods in brick-and-mortar schools to extend learning beyond school time. I think it makes learning in both our school systems better.
How would interested teachers go about applying for positions?
In our school we hire through the district [of Waukesha]. We take our applicants from the same pool as regular schools. Teachers would go through the district and indicate that their preference is to work with the online school.