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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  Virtually Yours
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Friday, May 5,2017

Virtually Yours

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  

I have joined the ranks of what is commonly known the “Sandwich Generation” as My mom and dad are, fortunately, still very healthy, but they are midway through their seventies and the clock stops for no one.


At the other end are my almostgrown kids. Both in their twenties and living away from home, but nowhere near flying solo just yet. While they may not need me on a day to day basis, they most certainly still depend on my paycheck and health insurance. And my parents live in New York. They used to come visit me and my busy life, but they aren’t as footloose and fancy free any more, so visits from them are less and less frequent. Ever wanted to be in two places at once?

So I took a leap of faith and made a gigantic career move. I left the brick and mortar classroom for the virtual world! Technically I still have to work from Florida, but at least I can leave mid-day on Friday and come back early morning Monday and not miss a beat. This would have been impossible to do twice a month with a traditional teaching job. Being able to visit my parents on a more consistent basis, rather than for just one month over the summer, was a no-brainer. But the teacher in me was not so sure. Would I really be able to walk away from the classroom environment? Is it possible to reach kids in the same way over the internet? In short, the answer is "No", but thankfully I’m finding the one-toone connection inherent in the individualized classroom experience to be just as helpful, if not more so in some ways.

From a classroom teacher perspective, it’s like trading off the magic that can happen when the chemistry of the room is just right and the lesson takes on an energy of its own for the individualized attention you can offer someone when you tutor them one on one. The dynamic classroom is awesome, but in a room of 30 there are bound to be moments when kids are not engaged. It’s nearly impossible to keep everyone’s attention at all times. Kids leave to go to the restroom, day dream, text someone… the challenge in that environment is 100% engagement. The challenge in the virtual environment is fostering connection. But just like the magic in the classroom, there is the same kind of spark when working one on one with a student and the proverbial lightbulb goes off-on. There’s nothing more exciting in a teacher’s world than the “Ah-hah!” moment. And my teaching day is full of those now.

Just like any job it has its downsides. The record-keeping is exponentially greater. Rather than having six classes of 30 students, I now have 180 classrooms with one student. It’s a really different approach. But the fact that the students work at their pace and I work at mine means that when we do meet - usually on the phone, but occasionally in a virtual classroom with other students for live lessons - we are present. Ready for the learning agenda of that moment. I think that is the beauty of virtual school. Finding a life/work balance that maximizes joy and results is something that benefits us all. Virtual school offers this for both students, their families and teachers and their families. The key is finding the groove that works for both the teacher and student. As with anything, it takes a little time and flexibility, but ultimately weaves its way into a system that works for everyone. It’s win-win-win all the way around.


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