When Martin Szczuczynski finished his first teaching internship as a junior at Orlando’s University of Central Florida, his main knowledge of K-12 virtual education came from what college friends told him about taking online classes in high school.
And while his teenage and 20-something friends didn’t exactly dive into deep discussions about pedagogy and curriculum, they went far enough that he checked a box on his post-internship evaluation expressing interest in doing his second teaching internship online.
“I was very curious,” said Mr. Szczuczynski, who a year later is also known as Mr. S. by his physical science students in his first year as a full-time instructor with the Florida Virtual School. “I had ideas in my head, and I wanted to see if they were true.”
It turns out they weren’t—which is exactly the point of Central Florida’s collaborative internship program with Florida Virtual, or FLVS. Born out of what university and the virtual school officials saw as a mutual need to increase staffing at FLVS and prepare pre-service teachers for the virtual environment, the program helped dispel the notion that K-12 virtual education mirrored online college courses, in which professors typically push content and students work independently, Mr. Szczuczynski said.
Instead, when he partnered with an FLVS advising teacher, he fought the same challenges many virtual instructors battle during their first real year on the job, such as managing time, understanding students’ moods, and maintaining confidence in their teaching skills without the affirmation of flesh-and-blood colleagues nearby.
But after learning the tools of the trade during his internship—including using emoticons “like no other"—he said he entered his full-time position this past summer well ahead of his first-year colleagues.
“I’ve found that I have a great reputation with people I’ve never even seen face to face,” Mr. Szczuczynski said.
Fellow former intern Laura Scott-Kappler, now a first-year global studies teacher for the Florida Virtual School, also said she began her teaching career with an advantage over her fellow rookies.
“I definitely learned some new things in my [new-teacher] orientation, but it was really reinforcing what I had already learned,” recalled Ms. Scott-Kappler."The other teachers who were around me were really frazzled.”
Perhaps more important for Florida Virtual, which has to invest its own resources to train most new teachers from scratch, the internship program left Ms. Scott-Kappler with enough of a taste that she wanted more.
Within the last couple weeks of the internship, she said, “I felt, ‘Man, I’ve got this down. And now I feel like this is ending.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 22, 2010 edition of Education Week as New Educators Look Back at Virtual-Teacher Preparation