Online Teaching Tuesdays: Are You Ready to Teach Online?
Got Wi-Fi? Online Teaching Tuesday is a series of resources for teachers who want to transfer their skills to an online classroom setting. Whether you're interested in full-time or part-time online teaching, explore this rapidly growing field with us every week!
As much as you probably love your job in the classroom, there have surely been days when you’ve stayed in bed a few extra minutes and wondered what it would be like to work from home, or more specifically, to teach from home. As the end tech world grows, there are increasing opportunities for online teaching.
Online instructors are needed for both K-12 and postsecondary organizations. If you are already in the classroom, you should have no problems meeting the educational requirements to teach online. Most institutions and organizations require that online instructors have at least a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued teaching certificate. In addition, most online teaching positions require you to have some classroom teaching experience.
If you are going to teach K-6, you will need to have experience teaching multiple subjects including reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Middle school and high school online teachers, like their in-classroom counterparts, generally focus on teaching one core subject such as English, math, biology, etc. Postsecondary instructors are generally required to have at least a master’s if not a doctoral degree. And, in almost all cases, online college professors are required to have experience in higher education working at actual colleges or universities at some point in their careers.
So, while you are probably qualified to do so, teaching online requires many other skills to be successful. Many of those skills are ones that you’ve developed through classroom teaching, but some are unique to the online environment. Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics it takes to be a great online instructor:
Be a Great Teacher
This one is pretty simple. If you already put in the hard work as a classroom teacher, you’ll make a great online instructor. If you know how to develop a strong rapport with your students, you’ll need to be able to translate that to working with young people online. A great classroom teacher supports her students academically, socially, and emotionally; an online teacher has the same responsibilities.
Be Tech Savvy
Online teachers must have a better grasp of using technology for instructional purposes than the average classroom teacher. Online teaching includes the use of video, audio, PDF and document worksheets, discussion boards, online grading systems, portfolio sites, and learning management systems. If you feel comfortable with the educational technology programs you currently use in the classroom, you’ve probably already got the skills you need to transition to online teaching. If you are not as comfortable with technology as you like to be, start by working with tutorials on programs like Camtasia for video screencasting, Google Docs for worksheets, and the frequently asked questions section of your current a learning management tool.
Be a Strong Communicator
When you’re teaching online, you can’t read students’ body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice. In order to be successful as an online teacher, your communication skills must be excellent. Your instructions and directions need to be clear and leave no questions as to what needs to be accomplished by students. Your video lessons should be easy to follow by all types of learners. Because you may not know your students in person, you will have to find some way to adjust your style of communication to best meet all of their needs. That may be asking them to take a communication survey at the beginning of your course or it may be stopping frequently during live lessons in order to gauge understanding. In addition, you’ll need to hold office hours and have frequent calls and email conversations with each student.
Be Organized and Able to Manage Time
Some online courses meet for live discussion sessions. But other than that, most online teachers do not have to follow a traditional bell schedule. Though the organization or institution that you work for may require that you be available online for office hours during certain times, you can usually set those times around your own schedule.
Unlike teaching in a school environment where are your classroom is open to the public and controlled by a daily schedule, teaching from home is a little bit more casual. Therefore, you have to have excellent organizational and time management skills in order to successfully teach online. Because you won’t have physical documents from your students, you must know how to use filing systems online to best keep track of student work, assessments, and grades. In addition, you’ll need a way to keep track of all of the documents that you need to provide to students for each lesson. Your learning management system may help, but it will be up to you to keep it that organizational system working for you.
Be a Self-Starter
Online teachers need to be able to take control of academic situations that may occur online. Unlike teachers in the classroom who have the constant support of administrators, online teachers need to be more self-sufficient. That’s not to say that you won’t receive help if you’re an online teacher, but it’s not as easy to send a student the principal’s office when there isn’t one. You need to be able to work independently and to make decisions quickly when you are an online teacher. You will also want to learn about teaching in online environments. You may be offered training when you join an online institution, but you should be willing to put in as much time as it takes to learn about how students use online tools and the best way to support them academically in the ed-tech environment.
Teaching online requires you to focus on technology and instruction, as well as being able to develop interpersonal skills that are useful in online interactions. Many teachers who work online enjoy the freedom of working from their home office. However, many of those same teachers miss the interactions that they have with students and other teachers throughout the day in a traditional classroom. It’s important to take the time to assess whether or not teaching online is right for you. If you have the skills and the experience, and you’re interested in leaving your traditional classroom, online teaching might be the best next step for your career.
Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children's fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.