The two biggest things I've learned during my career as a teacher are that no two students are the same, and that each student deserves support uniquely crafted to their individual needs. Cracking the code to a student's success requires time, personal investment, and a willingness to be flexible with students who might need extra assistance or are looking for an extra push as a high-achiever. This might sound like a basic recipe for success, but it can be more challenging than you would expect.
Before joining Insight School of Kansas (ISKS) and Kansas Virtual Academy (KSVA), I spent four years teaching in a "traditional" brick-and-mortar school. I enjoyed that time in my career and learned a lot about teaching. But the past eight years I've spent supporting students online showed me the wide array of unique tools and opportunities that allow me to connect with my students in ways I could never have imagined.
Through online education, I have watched students flourish after struggling for years in traditional schools. For two years, I had a phenomenal, straight-A student in my class. He would always turn his assignments in on time, handed in fantastic work, and consistently asked great questions during office hours. During our second year working together, I complimented the student's exceptional work to his father during a coaching session. It was only then that his father explained his son's performance had improved leaps and bounds from his output in his former school. I learned my student had a sleep disorder that resulted in him consistently falling asleep in his old classroom, causing him to miss key parts of the lessons and be embarrassed by reactions from his classmates and teachers. Because of that, he hated school and dreaded going every day, humiliated by his inability to keep up. Through online learning, he was able to do his work at times that work around his nontraditional sleep schedule, allowing him to overcome that challenge and thrive.
I've also seen this customized approach benefit students who are performing far above their grade level—also overlooked in traditional classrooms, just in a different way. One father came to me and explained that his daughter came home from her school each day frustrated by the amount of time her teachers spent disciplining other students—distracting from the overall goal of learning. Because teachers are able to monitor all conversations happening in online classrooms, we vastly reduce the amount of time spent managing behavior and direct that energy into learning.
With online learning, nobody is judging or bothering my kids. They can just learn.
Not only do I watch my students feel more comfortable learning in environments where they don't feel judged or unsettled, they feel more comfortable and connected with me. It was a challenge to connect with students during class time in my previous school, let alone in any additional capacity for extra help or support.
In my current classroom, however, students routinely contact me after hours just to share a picture of their new pet, or talk about how well their piano recital went. That connection makes students so much more invested in their own education, and the impact of that investment is clear.
Particularly in the teaching community, there's a huge misconception that online learning requires less involvement than a brick-and-mortar classroom—a concern I once shared. After eight years of working hand-in-hand with incredible teachers and students, I cannot stress enough how wrong that view is. There are cases where I'll actually get substantially more one-to-one interaction with students who want or need it.
Traditional schools just don't work for every student. I've seen firsthand that giving students an equal opportunity to succeed means we need to meet them where they are individually—whether that's a place that is comfortable for them or one that pushes them to go further. Online education options do what brick-and-mortar school can't, providing an opportunity for all students, not just most, to be in a setting that helps them thrive.
As a teacher, my mission is ensuring that students get the best education possible. I'm extremely proud to be part of a group of educators who are meeting students where they are to turn their potential into reality.