“Are you crazy?! Have you really thought about this?! People would KILL for your position!”
These are the things my siblings said to me when I told them I was leaving my 3rd grade position at a public school in NJ. I worked there for 16 years. It was a great place to start, I met some awesome lead learners (Hi Brad!), it was fine. As the years progressed, I felt I needed something more. I needed something challenging, something different, something more than fine. I applied and was offered a teaching opportunity at a public cyber charter school in PA. And then things became very interesting.
Most people aren’t familiar with public cyber schools. I often find myself telling them about our cyber school and all the wonderful learning that happens online and at our family learning center. Then, almost instantaneously the questions begin…
“Do you even teach?” (Yes)
“Do you have a class?” (Yes)
“Do you see them, can they see you?” (Yes, we use webcams)
“Are you giving them links to click on and learn?” (Yes, sometimes)
“Do your learners spend the entire day in front of a computer?” (No)
“How can they learn from the internet?” (Oh, boy…)
A question that a fellow educator and Twitter friend recently asked me has been lingering on my mind. He asked,
“Can you build strong relationships with your students online?” ~ Oskar Cymerman
This stopped me in my tracks. Why would he question this? Don’t we build relationships with individuals online, like I had formed with him and so many others, on Twitter? Can learning relationships only be formed face to face? I continue to learn a tremendous amount from my fabulous #PLN and the numerous chats, blog posts, edu articles, and blabs. Yet, I have only met a few Twitter friends in person. Why was he asking this?
When I began my cyber teacher experience, one of my fears (I had many) was if I would be able to connect with my learners. How would I do that? I have always been an animated teacher. I’m able to capture their attention and incorporate playfulness visually, kinesthetically and vocally into my lessons. I know how to simplify ideas and concepts to reach all learners. Would I be able to do all these things as a cyber, online teacher? Can I build relationships with my cyber students as I had done with my traditional “brick and mortar” students?
Yes, I can and I have. Yes, we can build strong relationships online. Yes, I am still animated, playful, and fun. Yes, students can connect and learn from a cyber teacher. How can I tell? At our school we receive feedback from parents, students, colleagues and administrators. My learners and I interact online, and in person. We email, FaceTime, call, we attend various meet and greets, and field trips. I speak not only with my learners on a regular basis but also with their parents who attend lessons with them. YES! Parents sit in on every cyber lesson I have! The trifecta (Student, Parent, Teacher) relationship is so powerful. I am most proud of the relationships I have with my parents and learners. Parents learn together with our class. They support the work we do, add to our discussions, reinforce concepts and ensure deeper learning at home.
I often ask my son Gabe to read my blog, and let me know his viewpoint. This is how he responded…
“You know mom, school is just a place where teachers teach what they have to, you know, curriculum and test prep. When I want to learn something, something that’s important to me, I know where I can find it and who I can learn from. I build those relationships online, I can make them happen. Kids just go to the source. A lot of the time, well recently, its not from a school, its not from a teacher or the relationship I have with my teachers. I just think teachers don’t understand that.”
~Gabe Howard, 15
Today, learners are not waiting for a relationship with their teacher to form, to learn something new. They don’t have to wait to learn. They build relationships and learn concepts online daily. To disregard this fact, is to disregard our times, what is relevant to our learners now. Our generation of learners are an iPoding, texting, Googling, YouTubing and Facebooking. They live during a time of dramatic technological changes. For many of them, texting is the chosen method of communication and YouTube is the chosen method of online learning. Whether you feel this is good or this is bad, is irrelevant. This virtual presense will not go away.
We as tenured teachers form and maintain relationships by meeting face to face, talking on the phone, and writing notes and letters. Today’s learners build relationships by texting, Facetiming, emailing and social media. They have access to so much and often times contact the source directly. We need to bridge the gap of old and new. There are more ways to form a learning relationship than face to face. We need to accept and adapt to this modern way. We can’t afford to miss the boat any longer.