By Allison Morrell
How can public school students care for a sick family member, travel continuously for competitive sports or even raise a child, all while receiving personalized instruction every day?
The answer is easy: online classes.
I live in Renton, but I work as an online teacher for public schools across Washington and Oregon, where students receive a high-quality online education tailored to their individual needs. In these courses, students can access online instruction and classwork either in brick-and-mortar schools or at home. Online teachers like me run the courses, providing instruction and guidance, while online software adapts content and feedback for every student based on their needs and learning levels.
I work with students in middle school and high school, teaching social studies, psychology, criminal justice or one of many other courses. I have seen firsthand how having access to these courses and personalized instruction benefits my students, and I am thrilled that more students are gaining access to the same options.
The format has steadily become more popular. In 2014, two-thirds of states offered online and “blended” learning opportunities that include in-person instruction — but now, the Department of Education reports that 48 states and the District of Columbia provide these opportunities. A 2015 report from Evergreen Education reports that at least 47 percent of high school students pursued some outside form of digital learning to supplement in-class instruction.
The diverse course options online learning makes possible are also crucial components of quality education. For instance, research indicates taking AP classes in high school makes students significantly more likely to graduate college on time and to earn higher grades, but offering AP courses in addition to regular courses can be a burden for smaller or more remote schools. Online options make it possible.
Online classes are already catching on across Washington. In Vancouver, for instance, Evergreen Public Schools has successfully adopted different forms of online learning across various schools. One of its schools, Vancouver Flex Academy, is fully blended — students go to school and rotate between online work, classroom instruction with a teacher and one-on-one support. These innovative approaches are working: only 3 percent of students in the district drop out, and the inclusion of credit-recovery courses helped one school achieve an impressive 96 percent graduation rate (compared to 79 percent across the state).
I’ve seen the positive effects of this learning platform firsthand. Working as an online teacher allows me to connect with students in unconventional ways. For instance, I currently teach a “History of the Holocaust” high school class. An entire class dedicated to such a specific historical period is uncommon in many schools, though it’s a crucial era for students to understand. The opportunity for one-on-one instruction in such fascinating subjects, whether online or in-person, is a treat for students and teachers alike.
One of the best teaching memories for me has been helping teen parents be able to finish school to provide futures for themselves and their families. These parents can’t leave their child to go to school all day, so online classes offer them an opportunity to get their diploma while raising a child of their own. My students sometimes face a variety of challenges, such as struggling with learning disabilities, severe illnesses or even taking care of a sick parent. The traditional school system can force students to choose between education and health or family, but the flexibility of online classes allows them to choose both.
My students come from diverse backgrounds and have diverse needs that are hard to fulfill in a brick-and-mortar school. Some need credit recovery courses in order to graduate. Some excel at competitive sports and have to travel continually to pursue their dreams — they can take classes on the road to stay on track. No matter the challenge or the need, I am passionate about helping students with unique needs to flourish in the classroom — students who would otherwise have little opportunity to succeed.
In my career, I have learned that just as no two students are exactly alike, no two students need the exact same education. In fact, the more options they can access, the better they can learn.
By combining the flexibility of a virtual classroom with the personal touch of live instruction, I’m able to help my students flourish, no matter their unique challenges or circumstances. And I look forward to the day schools in Washington give every student that same opportunity.
Allison Morrell is a Fuel Education history teacher who lives in Renton.