Helping New Teachers

By Shearon Arnott
Florida Virtual School
Training & Development Coordinator
Teaching online for the first time has been likened to the first year of classroom teaching all over again with all the awkwardness and uncertainty that implies. Our goal at Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is to prepare the new online instructor both emotionally and mentally so the first year is a pleasant one. How do we do that? We begin with an extensive interviewing process that probes for values and beliefs as well as skills. Teaching online is not the same as teaching in a traditional classroom. Teachers must be excellent communicators with the ability to hear uncertainty and doubt over the phone or in an Email. Imagine teaching with your eyes closed whenever you face your class that is the world of online teaching! So we look for teachers who will listen with their eyes and their heart. For a better understanding of the demands and diversity of the job, we ask them to shadow another online instructor. Finally, we present “what if†scenarios to determine if the instructor has a student-centered orientation. Only then do we make an offer of employment. To prepare new online teachers we start them off with a Web site search to facilitate knowledge of FLVS organization, people and products. Next, they complete an online course, Mission Possible, which addresses:

  • The life of an online instructor
  • Organizing time and space
  • Communication
  • FLVS online course navigation
  • Troubleshooting and technical tips
  • Assessing students

Other online courses cover our Email system and Learning Management System, Educator©. Now the new hire comes to the FLVS office for a two-day face-to-face training session. On Day One, we conduct Human Resources tasks, we give training on our Student Information System, we provide an overview of FLVS, and we give them a tour of the office. Day Two is our “Day in the Life†day we take the new instructors through every activity that they will be doing for the next 2 weeks: checking voicemail and Email, calling and welcoming new students, logging calls, and activating students. Through experience we know new hires are not able to immediately digest all the teaching online strategies. So we use a “just in time†method of information delivery, giving them just what they need to be successful until the next training session or online course occurs. Following the face-to-face training, we conduct a series of 4 follow-up training conference calls to introduce additional topics and concepts. Additionally, the new instructors are working with their Mentors, who are providing course information, additional teaching, and emotional support for the first year of employment. Our instructors report that after about 2 semesters of online teaching they feel competent and comfortable in their role, a claim supported by the Mentor reports as well. In measuring our effectiveness, we look at employee turnover, cost per employee, and Mentor assessment of competency. All three areas demonstrate that we’re doing the job, and doing it well.