Virtual learning will continue to thrive, regardless of a teacher shortage

When students have the option of choice, their academic wants and needs are fulfilled.

“It comes down to one word: choice,” says Kip Pygman, director of virtual schools at Proximity Learning. “When we go to dine out at a restaurant, the first thing we do is open up the menu to view the wide variety of options they have. You get excited about all of those options because they meet your needs, wants and goals directly in the moment. With virtual learning, when students open up their academic menu, how awesome is it that they now have options? I can take it face-to-face, I can take it hybrid, or I can take it virtually.”

Pygman believes that, regardless of whether there is a teacher shortage, virtual teaching will continue to be a necessary option for schools to offer.

Despite its growing popularity since the pandemic, the idea has received mixed reviews. The Washington Post released a story this week titled “Online Schooling Is the Bad Idea That Refuses to Die.” Research shows that online schools produce consistently worse outcomes than traditional public schools, according to the article.

On the other hand, some schools are utilizing this strategy to help combat the shortage of teachers. However, teachers have had a hard time adjusting to this new method of instruction. “As a result of COVID, teachers were not prepared to teach in the online learning environment,” says Pygman.

This was revealed true in a 2020 study, published by Phi Delta Kappan, which indicated that nine in ten teachers did not receive adequate virtual teaching training before the pandemic.

Furthermore, job dissatisfaction among pre-K-12 teachers has reached 79%, a 34% increase since the start of the pandemic. The difficulties of implementing successful virtual learning practices have also been a contributing factor.

Districts are starting to utilize college student-teachers to help fill their teacher vacancies. Lewis University recently partnered with Proximity Learning to provide education students with the opportunity to serve as student-teachers in virtual classrooms.

“We feel very strongly that the partnership we formed with Lewis University can prepare teachers of the future with the virtual skillsets that they need,” says Pygman. “We formed the partnership with Lewis University to make sure that their aspiring future educators were equipped and empowered to be able to teach in all learning modalities, not just face-to-face, but also hybrid or virtual.”

Pygman says the students at Lewis University will go through a week of training to prepare for online teaching.

“The pedagogy that we leverage is our partnership with the National Virtual Teachers Association,” says Pygman. “They’re one of the few entities that train and certify teachers to prepare them for synchronous learning. If you think of Danielson training, it’s kind of modeled off of that, but applicable to the virtual environment. Those students got training directly aligned to the NVTA domains.”

He also says that virtual teachers should aim to serve as an option for schools to utilize when they need them the most, not to replace them.

“We don’t compete with public schools; we complement them,” notes Pygman. “We recognize the great things that they are doing face-to-face and it’s our objective to just be there as an option to deploy our quality teachers when they have those teacher vacancies.”

He believes that online instruction has been influential, particularly in serving underserved communities.

“Last year we served over 70,000 students across 200 schools,” says Pygman. “This year we anticipate we’re going to be serving well over 100,000 students. The impact that we’re having is profound. Especially because many of the partners that we’re serving are in urban and rural areas that often have low-income families, and the teacher shortage really hit those communities  very hard.”

“Without Proximity as an option, these schools often times have to put a substitute or someone who’s not qualified in there. The students from these underserved populations continue to struggle and fall behind.”

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Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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