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Interview: Online Teacher of the Year Teresa Dove

TeachHUB Interview

Interview: Online Teacher of the Year Teresa DoveTeresa Dove doesn't need the four walls of a classroom to be an outstanding educator. 

Dove recently won the first ever National Online Teacher of the Year award for her work with the Florida Virtual School. She teaches Algebra II and integrates reading education by being the first math teacher to create a Model Literacy Classroom.

Dove shares her keys to success in the online classroom in the TeachHUB exclusive interview.

What is it that sets you apart from other online educators?


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Long before I became an online teacher, I decided to make distance education my life’s work. I got both my master’s degree and doctorate in the field. My passion for this method of education is evident and I think that sets me apart. I teach online because that is what I always wanted to do. I love it and I want each and every one of my students to leave my classroom knowing that they were taught by someone who wanted to be there and loved working with them.


How is your virtual classroom set up? Do students all login at a certain time or work independently guided by deadlines?


Students are able to log in and work at any time and at any pace. There are no set deadlines but we do have pace charts that can help students finish the course in a specific timeframe (1 semester, 2 semesters, over the summer, etc.). Although the course is asynchronous, we do have synchronous sessions where students can attend tutoring and help sessions. However, these are optional.


You have been especially recognized for your literacy intervention in the math classroom. Can you describe that effort?


This past year was a big year for me as I decided to really delve into the literacy realm. I became a member of the Reading Leadership Team, participated in Literacy Peer Coaching, and created a Model Literacy Classroom – becoming the first Algebra 2 teacher to do so at Florida Virtual School!

Creating a Model Literacy Classroom is around a 50 hour process for teachers who choose to participate in the program. The program is designed to help teachers meet the needs of their online students by showing that the teacher

  • completes literacy instruction with their students,
  • provides literacy opportunities/enrichment activities,
  • attends literacy professional development, and
  • becomes a literacy leader by sharing literacy information with peers and other staff.

Over the past year, I have developed alternative lessons for my students to meet various reading levels, given literacy instruction to individual students, created vocabulary games, and promoted literacy initiatives within my course.


How do you foster relationships with students and parents from 500 miles away?


The key to being an online teacher is to create one-on-one relationships with your students. Although you can help and communicate with students via email, chat, or IM, phone communication is the key. I spend the majority of my days on the phone helping students, speaking with parents, checking for content mastery, and learning about my students.

In addition, I believe that every effort a student makes needs to be celebrated and acknowledged. Celebrate every effort and success – no matter how big or small. Always be positive in your feedback, even if the assignment may not be stellar. The written word is so powerful online and you always want your students to feel that you are cheering them on and appreciate their hard work.


What online techniques carry over from the traditional classroom?


One common misconception about online learning is that it differs completely from the traditional classroom. Anything I did in the traditional classroom can be done online- just in a different way. I still incorporate direct instruction, games, group work, guest speakers, videos, and enrichment activities.

However, they may be in the form of an Elluminate session, Jing video, TeacherTube video, an online game, or done in a chat room or on the phone. As for teaching techniques, organization, time management, content knowledge, pedagogy techniques, etc. as all just as pertinent as they were in the traditional classroom.


What advantages does teaching online have OVER teaching in a classroom?


I teach online because I have a firm belief that our students deserve better. If you have ever taught in the traditional classroom, you understand when I say that we would consider it a “success” if we were able to take role, check homework, deal with discipline issues, wake up a few students, teach the lesson, and still have 10 minutes at the end of the class period to circle around the room and help our students one-on-one with their homework.

When you reflect on this, in a classroom of 30 students, 10 minutes allows you 20 seconds of one-on-one time per student. Twenty second is not enough and our students deserve better. Online, I average over 30 minutes of one-on-one time on the phone with each of my students. That’s the equivalent of one semester’s worth of one-on-one time they would receive in a traditional setting. When you add in the individual emails, IMs, and chats, you can definitely see that online students tend to receive a lot more one-on-one time with their teachers than in the traditional setting. The statistics are amazing and so empowering for a teacher to know you can make so much more of a difference in a student’s life.


Other advantages to teaching online include the flexibility and being able to use cutting edge technologies to reach students who demand their use. We are teaching a new generation of students who have grown up in a technology rich environment. Using the old, traditional methods no longer works for many of these students and they are beginning to demand that we use their mobile technologies so that they can learn in a medium that interests them.


Do you find teaching online to be more work, less work or the same amount of work as in the traditional classroom?


This is my fifth year with Florida Virtual School and I can honestly say that I work more hours online than I ever did in the physical classroom. Teachers at FLVS work from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm year round, but you will also find that teachers work well beyond those hours. When I was in the traditional classroom, I had my summers off, enjoyed a Spring Break, and even had snow days. All of that is gone now as we are a year round school that gives students 24/7 access to the course and content.


How do you reach out to those students who stop logging on or participating in class?


1.  For students who stop working, the phone is the first thing I turn to. I call every number I have – from home, cells numbers, parent work numbers, physical school numbers if they attend school during the day, and even student work numbers.

2.  Emails are also sent out to students and parents.

3.  As a final step, we have a Student Success Center. This is our last resort for reaching students and has someone else try calling and contacting them.


Do you still have behavior or classroom management issues in an online classroom?


The behavior issues online tend to be limited to those involving the student/teacher or parent/teacher relationships. We don’t have to worry about students sleeping in class or fighting online. Most of the issues that arise online are due to breakdowns in communication. This can sometimes lead to frustration, which can result in further communication breakdowns. In these instances, we still have principals to turn to and just having that mediator can really help get things going back in the positive direction.


How can face-to-face teachers integrate some of your techniques into their classrooms?


The wonderful thing about technology and Web 2.0 tools is that they are not limited to the online classroom. Any classroom teacher can use them in their physical classroom.

Also, when I was in the traditional classroom, I still used the phone often. Parents want to hear from you and the more you communicate with them, the more they become your advocate. Between the parents and the teacher, you can form a team to help the student be successful.

Also, don’t forget to call about good things as well. It is sad when parents dread seeing a teacher call their home because it is usually about something negative. Shake it up a bit – call a parent to brag on their child and you will be shocked at their reaction and how they will remember you for doing that. I have even had parents cry when I called to brag on their child- it means a lot to them to hear the positive.

How do you integrate these online learning techniques in your classroom? Share in the comments section!

Image Source: Southern Regional Education Board


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