In August of 2015, I left my full-time public school teaching position after nearly fifteen years and transitioned to the world of full-time online teaching. The move was a big change for me, and while I greatly missed seeing my students most days, the transition to full-time sweatpants was much less difficult.
I quickly learned that working in pajamas didn’t mean I was less of a teacher. As an online teacher, I felt busier than ever. In a face-to-face environment, much of my time was spent planning lessons and preparing material for class, followed by endless amounts of grading. My online courses were already prepared for me, so most of my time was given over to fully attend to my students and how they were learning. Grading work was constant, like shoveling in a snowstorm, and sometimes the sheer amount of work being submitted by students made me wish for an internet snow day. Online teachers don’t get snow days.
Face-to-face teachers would look puzzled as I explained that I was teaching online. “But don’t you miss students? It’s not like you get to see them online. You’re not exactly teaching — you’re just grading their work.” I did miss the classroom interactions with students, but I couldn’t help feeling offended by comments like this.
Online teachers don’t just provide a score on work. As an online teacher, I assessed each attempt at learning, wrote detailed comments to students on what they did well, where they needed to improve, where they were going, and how to get better. I instructed them on each assignment, giving them the necessary tools and remediation to move ahead before accepting another attempt on their work. Grading student work became a major way I connected with my online students. I left jokes and asked questions in their feedback, and many of my students would share what was going on with them in their daily lives. I sent them encouraging messages and wished them luck on their other high school activities. I shared material and resources to individual students who expressed an interest in learning more about certain topics. I created videos to answer their questions and give them guidance when necessary.
Online teachers also monitor progress constantly. We know that if our students fall behind, they will face an overwhelming amount of work later in the semester (and that translates to a mountain of work for us teachers all at once too). We send frequent progress updates to students, parents, and mentors. We constantly look at the grade book to see how each student is progressing and achieving. We address gaps in performance when we see them, and we provide individualized coaching to keep our students growing.
As it turns out, pants are not actually a requirement to be an effective teacher. I do highly recommend them for the classroom though.