Many teachers have now experienced online teaching. However, their experience is a little skewed. Online teaching has been around for a lot longer than many teachers realise, specifically in the context of School of the Air and other schools for rural and remote students. Most states or territories will have an online learning or distance education school to cater to these students, as well as a growing number of students who choose online learning for another reason.
Many teachers have experienced online teaching in the context of the pandemic. They were forced to very suddenly flip everything around to teach online without any of the training, agreements with parents and students, or infrastructure in place. This is a very different experience from what you would get doing online teaching at a dedicated distance education school.
Teaching online is different to teaching face-to-face. There are several skills that are uniquely suited to online teaching that you may not expect, but if you think you can do it, there are many benefits to being an online teacher:
- Improved work-life balance as an online teacher.
- Safer behaviour management when teaching online.
- Stronger collaboration between teachers who are teaching online.
- You can work with a wider variety of students learning online.
- You can be there for people when they need you the most.
- The benefits of teaching online.
Improved work-life balance as an online teacher.
Many of the teachers who suddenly found themselves teaching online did not see an improvement in their work-life balance. Many found the opposite; that teaching face to face as well as organising online learning was twice as much work as just doing one or the other. Add the steep learning curve required when you start online teaching, and you have a lot of very stressed and overworked teachers.
If you start working for a school dedicated to online teaching, and there are some out there, you will find that the work environment is quite different. Every online learning or distance education school has another way of teaching online. Still, many will find that not being in front of students for the entire workday means they have an easier time finding balance.
Don’t go into online teaching thinking that it will be less work. Planning and delivering online learning can take more preparation and time than regular face-to-face teaching. The difference is that you are not in front of students all day; they only see you when you’re logged on to the lesson.
This can be a huge pressure relief. When I was doing online teaching, I could have my lunch outside, and no students would bother me. I could go for walks around the neighbourhood in between lessons, walk up to the shops to grab a coffee, or just grab my laptop to do some work in the sunshine. Just having these moments did wonders for my mental health and the exercise during the day helped me manage my stress levels. Add on top of this that some distance education schools are starting to let teachers work from home for a few days in the week; online teaching can be an excellent option if you’re looking to prioritise your work-life balance.
Safer behaviour management when teaching online.
New studies are coming out that give evidence for what teachers have been saying over the last few years; behaviour problems are increasing amongst school-aged children. As any teacher who has done even a little bit of online teaching can tell you, you do still have behaviour problems when teaching online. You will still get students not doing work, calling out in class, being inappropriate, or even breaking things. One of the benefits of online teaching is that these incidents do not put you in danger.
It can be harder to manage student behaviour when teaching online compared to face-to-face. If your student doesn’t want to listen to you, they can just log off. You can mute them if you need to, but that can quickly destroy a relationship and trust. If you’re a teacher, though, it is almost certain that you’ve been threatened or assaulted by a student at some point. Even though it shouldn’t be a risk that teachers take, it does happen.
While you still need to manage behaviour and have excellent behaviour management skills, online teaching does not bring the immediate risk many teachers face in classrooms. It is a great option for teachers who are sick of being treated poorly by students and need to take this step to look after their own well-being.
Stronger collaboration between teachers who are teaching online.
Teaching is quite a different job when you don’t have students in the classroom or wandering the yard. This is not only because you need to change your teaching style in lessons but also because you have greater flexibility in spending your time outside of the lesson. A lot of work needs to go into a successful online teaching program, but one of the enormous benefits of not having students to constantly supervise is that teachers can find more time to collaborate.
If you have less time spent in lessons and more time preparing, you have more chances to work with your colleagues. Many teachers are forced to do much of their planning at home after work in a face-to-face school. By having more time to plan during the day, there are far more chances to work with your colleagues and learn from them.
You may also be lucky enough to work in an online teaching setting where you can specialise in your particular subjects. For example, there are only one or two language teachers in many schools. Some of the distance education schools, on the other hand, will supply a language teacher to a range of different schools that are too small to have their own language teacher. In one of the schools that I worked at, there were around 45 language teachers across approximately seven different languages. They had the incredible opportunity to work together to grow and develop their skills.
You can work with a wider variety of students learning online.
In many online teaching settings, it’s not only rural and remote students that you are teaching. You could teach students who are in a face-to-face school, but the school doesn’t offer a particular subject that they want to take. You could also be teaching students who have a disability and struggle to leave their house, students travelling around the world, professional athletes and students who are out of school for a short period due to bullying.
You may get each of these students in your class all at once. It is a unique challenge to cater to all of these different students simultaneously, but it can be incredibly fulfilling. You’re interacting with very different people with vastly different backgrounds and life experiences every day, which keeps things fresh and exciting. Solving such a wide range of problems will hone your skills as a teacher and prepare you for any school you may want to work in next.
You can be there for people when they need you the most.
While your students will all be very different, you will find that they also have one key thing in common. You are their only option to reach their goals. Online learning can be challenging for most students, and most don’t choose to do it. Any students who think that it will be a bludge are often brought back to reality very quickly when they realise that you, as their teacher, can’t hold their hand like you could in a face-to-face classroom.
Online learning can be life-changing for some students. It can be the reason why they finish school when they suddenly get very sick or the thing that gives them confidence when they have lost hope. While online teaching is complex and doesn’t work for everyone, most teachers get into the profession because they want to make an impact. I’ve never felt my own impact on the lives of my students more than when I’ve worked in online teaching.
The benefits of teaching online.
For those keen to take the plunge, teaching online can have a wide range of benefits. Online teaching could be for you, whether you’re looking for a break from face-to-face teaching to try something different, interested in a challenge, or want to see your impact as a teacher. Many distance education schools need good, dedicated teachers, so it may be worth looking into.