" ...our family will move again, but I don't have to worry about finding another job. I can continue teaching from wherever the Navy takes us."
Tell us a little about yourself. WHat do you do?
I am a military spouse, mother to one, and an online teacher with K12. K12 provides online education for students Pre-K through 12th grade in public, private, and homeschool programs. My husband is a pilot in the U.S. Navy, and I work from our home in Virginia Beach, VA while caring for our one-year-old daughter.
HOw would you describe your role as an online teacher?
One of the benefits of being an online teacher with K-12 is that I don’t have to plan lessons like a traditional teacher does. With the exception of individualized 'class-connect' sessions, I am not tasked with planning daily lessons. The syllabus is already written for both me and my students. When my students sign up for K-12, they receive all of the required books and materials as well as the entire curriculum.
My math students are 6th-12th graders and attend a Mississippi public school. These students go to a computer lab when using the K-12 program and while they have someone assisting them, I help pace them through the curriculum, grade papers, and keep up with their assignments. At the end of the semester, I give them the review and final grade.
My 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade elementary students, however, are homeschooled in the state of Nevada. I teach a variety of subjects to these students, and they are in front of a home computer when using the program. The parents of my elementary students act as a ‘learning coach’, assisting their children through the program.
How do you communicate with your students?
There are a number of ways that I communicate with my students. I use email as well as hold video and audio sessions. During our monthly 30 minute class - connect sessions, I make a Powerpoint and upload it onto Blackboard so that they can see each slide. The slides are interactive so that I am able type on the slide and my students can as well. If any of my younger students feel uncomfortable, I will use the video feed so that they can see that I am a real person.
This month, my elementary students are doing Dibbles Assessments, which measures reading comprehension and fluency. Once my students log in, they will read three passages. I will time them for a minute and count the number of errors that they have and if they have self corrected. I will then ask them three details about the passage. The passages are on both mine and my student's screen, and I make marks on mine as they read. It's like they are sitting right next to me, but they are states away.
What does your typical day look like as an online teacher and mother to a one-year-old?
When we first get up, I set my daughter down in her play room so that I can check for messages from my parents, students, or managers. If I have any ‘urgent’ messages, then I will feed her breakfast, keeping her occupied for 10 minutes, while I respond to the email. If I don’t have any messages, I just put my laptop or phone away and I don’t look at it again until 11:30 am or noon.
My daughter has nap time in the afternoon and usually sleeps for at least 2 hours. I am scheduled to work 10 hours a week so this is when I do the majority of my work. Once logged in, I look for any assignment alerts and look through my students' work. I have anywhere from 0-20 assignments to grade, but I average 5 assignments per day and it takes roughly 5-10 minutes per assignment.
In addition to grading assignments, I meet with my students once a month for a class-connect session, which is similar to a Skype session using Blackboard Collaborate. At the end of each unit they complete an assessment, and I will plan an individualized lesson plan based on where they need help. If I look back at their assignment and see that they are struggling with order of operations, for example, I can reinforce that during the lesson. I take 5- 10 minutes to prepare for the lesson before my students log on at the scheduled time.
On Mondays, I send out personal emails for the week encouraging my students to stay up to date with their assignments. These programs are designed to allow the student to go at his or her own pace, but I help them stay on track. On Wednesdays from 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm, I hold 'office hours', and I am available to all of my students. During that time my students can log on to my own URL where I have blank whiteboard set up so that they can type me questions. Outside of scheduled appointments and office hours, I will respond to emails and provide one-on-one help whenever its needed.
Between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm, my daughter wakes from her nap and I put my work away. If there is a day that I know that I have to run to the DMV or auto shop, I just hold scheduled sessions another day. After I put my daughter down for the night, I will check my email one last time for the day.
How have you been able to balance both parenting and working from home?
It can absolutely be difficult at times to juggle everything. When my daughter was a newborn, she slept all the time and I could log in whenever I wanted. If she doesn't take a good nap, which has definitely happened before, I have to get creative. I will put her on my lap or give her toys to keep her occupied and use the mute button while the student is chatting if I need to so that they aren’t distracted by her. So, yes, it can get tricky balancing the two if I have a live lesson scheduled, but I have 3 days to grade assignments and 24 hours to respond to questions. What’s incredible about this job is that it is flexible and unless I have something scheduled, I can work at anytime of the day if her schedule changes.
I also have flexibility in the hours that I work. I am currently in a 1/4 part -time position, but there is 1/2, 3/4 and full time positions. I always have the opportunity to take on more students and hours if and when I want to. My husband is currently deployed, so I have more household responsibilities in addition to working and caring for Lucy. However, I have the flexibility to go home and to see family while my husband is gone, and I am still committed to my students even while I'm traveling.
it is common to move often as a military spouse. How were you able to complete your bachelor's and master's degree despite the frequent moves?
I completed my Bachelor’s degree and Master's degree in Elementary Education online through Grand Canyon University. Prior to being a pilot in the U.S. Navy, my husband was an air traffic controller in the U.S. Marine Corps. I was a freshman in college when we got married at 19 years old. My husband started training in Pensacola, FL and then left for Afghanistan. I returned home to New York while he was away and once we were back in Pensacola, I tried to transfer my credits to a Florida college. I was told that I was going to lose half of my credits. I knew right then that a traditional school wasn’t going to work for me.
When I was first enrolled, online schools were not the typical route to earn a degree, but now it's becoming more and more accessible. Grand Canyon University offered a military discount on tuition, and I got the MyCAA grant, which is a great benefit for military spouses. I took 2 classes at a time year round while student teaching or working. I took all of my classes online and although I didn’t know it at the time, online learning was setting me up for online teaching.
What work experience did you have prior to teaching online?
My original intent was to be an elementary school teacher. However, as a military wife, we move mid-school year, so there are times that I had to take positions that weren't my first priority. I completed my student teaching at a school with mostly military children while we were stationed in Beaufort, SC and completed my first year of teaching in Florida where my husband was in flight training. I had to remain open when looking for positions. I completed my first full calendar year of teaching a juvenile delinquent center. I taught many subjects that year, including math, science, and reading. And although it was extremely challenging, it was one that taught me how to teach in adverse circumstances. We moved again to Meridian, MS for intermediate jet training and I taught 7th grade math at in inner- city middle school. The position came with a host of challenges, but I gained another certification and more experience. To finish flight training we moved to Virginia Beach, VA, where I was a resource teacher at a local middle school before my daughter was born and before having my current position.
How did you find out about online teaching and how did you get the position?
Around the time that my husband was accepted into the Navy flight program, my student teaching mentor told me about K-12. She was the wife of an F-18 pilot and told me to keep it in mind when I started a family of my own. She had wished an opportunity like this existed when she was moving around with the military.
I first applied to K-12 when we were in Mississippi. I was pregnant with my daughter and teaching middle school math at the time when a math position opened up through K-12. In order to get hired you have to have a state certification in the position for which you are applying. Once you are hired and in the system, the company will pay for all additional certificate and keep them current. In order to be considered, you have to have a master's degree and 3 years teaching experience. Once I got hired, there were more positions available in different states. I then got the opportunity to get a Nevada teaching certificate, so now I teach elementary education for students in Nevada.
can you tell us about some of the benefits and drawbacks of teaching online?
One of the rewards of being in the classroom is, of course, being able to witness that light bulb moment in a student. Teachers get to have a close working relationship with their students, and at times, I think online teaching feels like more paperwork. On the other hand, I don’t have any behavioral issues to address so there is very little stress involved. At K-12, I have a manager who communicates with me through email. She has proven to be a very helpful mentor, and I have good support.
The pay is comparable to formal teaching. I definitely don’t get paid a lot, but neither do public school teachers. I was paid per student in a contract position at first, but now I receive a salary pay. It comes out to about $40,000 a year as a full time teacher no matter the state you are working from. Although it took a full year to be hired, I am continually given the opportunity to add more students.
Flexibility is a priority for our family right now. This opportunity allows me to be able to stay in my field, avoid a gap in my resume, and continue teaching while caring for my kids. Before I started working at K-12, it was so challenging to find a teaching job because we moved at odd times of the year. I taught in four different states and it was more than just applying and interviewing. I also had to research the state requirements and fulfill them before starting, which was a lot of time and money out of my own pocket. Now, I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I get to teach children all over the country from my home office and be at home with Lucy. I know that our family will move again, but I don't have to worry about finding another job. I can continue teaching from home wherever the Navy takes us.
What would you tell some one interested in this position?
I always thought I’d be a working mom. Never in a million years did I think that I would stay at home because I thought that I would go stir crazy. But it’s the furthest thing from boring, so I don’t want to miss any of it. I love being able to be with my daughter and being able to travel. You usually don't have that many options as a teacher as far as part time positions go, so online teaching has that additional flexibility. As life changes, you can reevaluate and take on more students if needed. I think this would be an incredible opportunity for both working mothers and teachers who are at the age of retirement. The good news is that the demand for online teachers is growing. K-12 started in a few states and now provides education programs to students in 33 states, so these positions may become more available in the future.