How Classroom Teacher/Virtual Teacher Pair-Ups Could Improve Teaching

We learned a lot about what was working and what wasn’t working in education over the past few years. Millions of teachers moved from in-class instruction to online instruction almost overnight. In the process, we saw that virtual teaching had some real benefits and some definite limitations. We learned that many of our students need the social engagement of a classroom environment. They need their peers (and us!) each day. But for some of our students, virtual learning opened windows of opportunity that we never imagined prior to 2020. As we return to a more traditional model, it would be a huge mistake not to consider these benefits. In fact, many districts have begun partnering with online tutoring and virtual teaching companies for just this reason. Here are five ways pairing up classroom teachers and virtual teachers could improve teaching.

Differentiation that works for more students (and teachers!)

Traditional Model:

Right now, one classroom teacher has to differentiate instruction for all of their students who required it. When one teacher has 20+ students, this becomes an increasingly difficult job. Often, because of time constraints, teachers have to choose where to focus. The students with legally mandated differentiation needs (ie, 504 plans, IEPs, etc.) get the most attention. Students who are more advanced or gifted often get less attention because they’re “doing fine” on their own. In middle and high schools, there is usually a specific set of classes offered. Those classes are often scheduled, because they meet the basic graduation requirements and the most number of students need to take them. Students who could take more advanced/specialized classes miss out because districts can’t afford (or find) teachers to teach them.

Classroom Teacher/Virtual Teacher Pair-Up:

In a school that had access to both classroom and virtual teachers, differentiation becomes a much more achievable goal. The five students in the building who could be taking Mandarin II can do so. The school district can work with a virtual teacher, certified in Mandarin, who can meet with them online. Classroom teachers who see a group of students who need additional support in making inferences can schedule time with them to work with a virtual teacher. The virtual teacher can meet with students during free periods, study halls, or even before or after school study sessions. Having classroom and virtual teachers who can work together creates far more options for differentiation that works for students.

Homebound instruction that doesn’t fall on overworked classroom teachers

Mother helping young son as he works with virtual teachers on his laptop while sitting in his kitchen

Traditional Model:

In my district, the guidance counselors were frequently emailing classroom teachers, asking for homebound instruction volunteers. For a stipend, teachers were asked to teach a student at their home for several hours a week. Yes, you were getting paid. But you were also agreeing to give up more of your personal time to teach. Other times it is parents that ask if their child’s classroom teacher can meet before or after school for additional help. And while it’s always wonderful to have parents advocating for their children, the classroom teacher is the one who has to decide to “refuse to help their student” or give up more of their own time.

Classroom Teacher/Virtual Teacher Pair-Up:

Classroom teachers have a rigid daily schedule. Their only available times for additional duties like homebound instruction or tutoring are outside their workday. Virtual teachers, on the other hand, have far more flexibility. They can meet with students at a variety of times. Because of this, a district offering virtual instruction could have one virtual teacher who met with multiple homebound students throughout the day and still had time to offer tutoring sessions. By working together with the classroom teachers in the building or district, the virtual teacher could provide the instruction each student needed. The classroom teachers and virtual teacher would communicate about curriculum and materials, but would be able to share the responsibilities of instruction, review, and assessment.

Working toward making discipline more equitable and purposeful

Young male student sitting in front of a laptop at home

Traditional Model:

We knew that the typical discipline model wasn’t working before COVID-19 closed school buildings. The ACLU reports that suspended students are far more likely to come in contact with the juvenile justice system. They are also three times more likely to be black than white. In addition to the serious concerns about equity in discipline, there are also the day-to-day concerns. Districts are still legally required to provide suspended students with academic services while they’re out of school. Often, providing that work becomes the responsibility of the classroom teacher. We have to make time to provide materials and instruction for students who often won’t do it anyway. These places them even further behind their peers when they return to the classroom, increasing the likelihood that they’ll continue to act out behaviorally.

Classroom Teacher/Virtual Teacher Pair-Up:

Some online teaching companies have begun to address this problem by offering virtual suspension classes. Virtual teachers can ensure that suspended students are both meeting the requirements of their punishments and receiving instruction that will help them return to their classrooms better prepared. One superintendent explained how this method benefited the students by saying, “In addition to the academic piece, … these are kids that would normally be home, and isolated … they’d be playing their Xbox, or they’re out in the community making poor decisions. Here, we’ve coupled this with an additional in-district program, but the instructional portion of their day is directed by the district; it’s in the district, it’s in school, and they feel like a part of something again. So it really helps reconnect them back to school to be productive and successful.”

Supporting our English-Language Learners (ELLs)

A trio of diverse students all holding electronic devices

Traditional Model:

Our ELL teachers do tremendous work helping students whose primary language isn’t English. Every day they work to ensure these students receive an education while simultaneously helping them fit in a school where the cultures and spoken languages ​​may differ greatly from their own. This is a highly-challenging work. And often, classroom teachers not trained to work with ELL students struggle to provide these students with the support they need. While trying to meet the needs of all the other students in their classrooms, teachers asked to do the same for a student who doesn’t speak the language is a huge challenge. With the projected number of ELLs set to reach 25 percent by 2025 (and 40 percent by the following decade), schools are going to have to find new ways to accommodate these students.

Classroom Teacher/Virtual Teacher Pair-Up:

One of the most obvious ways virtual teachers can support our English-Language Learners is by acting as virtual translators. While each district may not be able to provide a translator for every student who needs one, virtual teachers can provide a flexible option. Whether it’s providing one-on-one instruction with a dedicated teacher who speaks the student’s primary language or working as a support option before or after classes, these teachers can help students overcome their language barriers. Working together with classroom teachers, virtual teachers can help ELL students become more comfortable and likely to engage and participate in their in-person classes by building their confidence and understanding.

Helping our students graduate

Young Black woman waving at laptop screen

Traditional Model:

Prior to the COVID-19 shut-downs, our national graduation rates were looking pretty good. In fact, high school graduation rates had increased from 79 percent in 2010–11 to 86 percent in 2018–19. But, 2021 saw graduation rates dip in at least 20 US states. As classroom teachers, many of us weren’t all that surprised. So many students struggled to stay motivated while learning at home. Others used the time to work outside their homes to provide supplemental income for their families. We can be hopeful that being back in school full-time will help many students’ grades, but we are going to need some additional support getting back to where we were prior to the shut-downs.

Classroom Teacher/Virtual Teacher Pair-Up:

After the past few years of virtual and hybrid instruction, many of our students are in need of credit recovery options. Students struggling to graduate on time will need dedicated educators to guide and support them. They will need to be encouraged not to give up and to put in the additional hours needed to meet their graduation requirements. While their regular teachers will be their primary source for this guidance and encouragement, virtual teachers can provide the support and one-on-one instructional time. By keeping the best aspects of online learning, we can help students who struggled to be academically successful at home.

Check out how one company is pairing its virtual teachers with schools throughout the country. iTutor has over 1,000 state-certified educators on it’s virtual platform and has provided more than 57,263 hours of instruction to students across the nation this school year.


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