Exclusive: Online School Interview with Florida Virtual School Elementary Teacher (25min.)

In this video interview, we talk about my experience teaching virtually at FLVS. It was recorded this summer(2020). Check out my answers to common questions about FLVS, virtual elementary school, and what it’s like being a virtual teacher. You might be interested in this interview if you’re a teacher or a parent of a student considering an online school, including FLVS, K12, Connections Academy, or another program.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) Teacher Interview

Brian: Hey everyone, today I have Christiann with me. She is a Public Elementary School Teacher at Florida Virtual School, also known as FLVS.

Today we’re talking about her experience teaching virtually. She’ll give us her recommendations for students, many of whom are now distance learning, her advice for teachers, and answer common questions that parents have about distance learning. Are you ready to get started?

Christiann: Yes, I’m ready!

Brian: Great! 

Can you tell us a little bit about your teaching background and online school experience?

Christiann: I’ve been teaching for seven years. Five of those years were at a brick-n-mortar public school.  It was also a “title one” school, meaning most of the students received free or reduced lunch.

And then for the last two years, I have worked at an online public school Florida Virtual School, or FLVS, which is also a title one school. So my experience has been primarily working with lower-income students, but the experience has been very different when comparing the brick-n-mortar and virtual schools.

Brian: Interesting, so funding is a major problem in brick-n-mortar schools. I think that’s a very common problem across the United States. 

What challenges have you seen at the Virtual School that are different than the challenges you’ve seen in the brick-n-mortar school?

Christiann: Well, one of the biggest challenges is, simply, making sure that the students are showing up to class time, even though it’s virtual. Also making sure students are completing assignments. 

So when you think brick-n-mortar, the teacher is there with the students and able to make sure that they’re getting assignments done in class and spending time practicing.

But when they’re at home, I really don’t have a way to check-in. Another issue is making sure that the student is completing the assignments on their own. Sometimes, siblings are helping or parents might be helping too much or too little. I see both sides of that. 

Brian: I see. So having the support at home is an important part of the success in elementary distance learning. However, parents and even siblings have to make sure they aren’t helping too much.

How much parent support is required for students enrolled in online school?

Christiann: Yes, that’s something important to consider. If you are attending a Virtual Elementary School, you need to have the right amount of support at home.

Soon after starting, students should be able to do most assignments on their own. But initially, there really needs to be parent support to teach them. Simple things like how to submit assignments, how to log into class time, and when to meet with their teacher for one on one support. From there, as soon as the student is familiar with the day-to-day, the amount of support required by the parents should become less and less.

Brian: Okay, so you should expect to support your kids if they attend virtual school.

What is it like communicating with parents from virtual schools compared to brick-n-mortar schools?

Christiann: Surprisingly, since teaching virtually, I have communicated with parents a lot more than I did in brick-n-mortar, where I would usually only see most of the parents at open-house and mandatory conference nights.

On the other hand, when teaching virtually at FLVS, I am constantly communicating with parents by text, email, phone, and video calls.

Each month I send updates to the parents. 

Another great thing about virtual school is that the parents get to see their students’ grades almost instantly. This way, if parents notice something of concern, they’re able to reach out right away. For example, finding out why a student received a poor grade on their assignment when they are used to getting straight As.

Communication helps us quickly catch the students that need help. Maybe they were missing something. And I notice the same on my end. If I notice a student is always getting As and Bs, and out of nowhere they got a D on an assignment, I can reach out to parents and let them know because they might say, oh, that’s because they just jumped into it or maybe they went out of order in a module. 

At brick-n-mortar, I simply couldn’t just answer parent texts or emails in the middle of the day. Sometimes I didn’t see an email for eight to 12 hours. And sometimes, at brick-n-mortar, I wouldn’t see an email until the next day when I had meetings right after the school day. So communication is much faster virtually.

Brian: Fascinating, thanks for the insight!

Is there anything that surprised you about virtual school? Anything you weren’t expecting from an online school?

Christiann: One of the things that really surprised me was the amount of communication with other teachers and administration. You would probably think that more communication happened at brick-n-mortar. In reality, once you’re in your classroom, for most of the school day you’re just with your students. 

But at virtual school, you’re able to have a team meeting instantly. You’re able to solve problems as they arise and not have to wait until after school hours.

I really like that we are able to hop on a call together and look at data almost instantly. Or if we notice something across the board, you know, like an issue with an assessment, we can meet and talk about those things right away. I’m always on Skype or zoom communicating with other teachers within a sort of virtual office. 

We’re able to retrieve and review information much quicker. When I was in brick-n-mortar, when we had to hand-score or wait to use a scantron machine, you’re waiting a long time to get access to grades.

When you have those grades and access to instant feedback we can really help student success. What standard, or what curriculum item, are they missing?  Virtually we can address that the next day in class time or even right away. And that is something that has been very beneficial for the students. 

Also being able to pull students one on one. If I notice that a student is having trouble, I can schedule a tutoring session for that day. At brick-n-mortar, it was time to move on and we couldn’t really provide that one on one support unless that was taking the teachers lunchtime.

Brian: I see, so there’s more individualized attention at virtual school. 

How is the FLVS Full-time Public Elementary School different from other online schools?

Christiann: AT FLVS we have two programs, one called “Flex”, and another called “Full-time”.

“Flex” is a homeschool option. This is similar to the majority of virtual schools available.

“Full-time” is an accredited public school, including the same curriculum standards and assessments.

What makes “Full-time” different from “Flex”, and most other virtual schools, is that at Full-time we’re the most similar to your traditional public school. We have regular assignments. You are having class time and it is expected that you attend. We take attendance. We check-in with the students often to make sure they aren’t falling behind. 

“Flex” can be seen as more independent work. On the other hand, “Full-time” students spend more time working together.

I think that’s one of the biggest things that stands out is having extra accountability in terms of meeting standards set forth by the public school system, which homeschooled students don’t have to worry about.

Brian: Very interesting!

When is Virtual School the best option for a student?

Christiann: In both full-time and flex programs we see many students from various backgrounds succeed. 

Many students that have had some trouble in the brick-n-mortar school setting thrive at FLVS. They might have just been somebody who can’t sit still in their desk all day.  We regularly have students in our class time who will be moving around in their rooms,up and about, but they’ll have the audio over their speakers so they’ll come running back to their computer when it’s time to answer questions or share. And so in a virtual school, those students are able to move around and get that flexibility that they might need to succeed.

We’ve had students who might have processing issues. So they may take a little bit longer. At brick-n-mortar, we always had to keep going, and that is very bad for those students. But, in my experience at FLVS, I’ve had parents tell me that their student pauses my live lesson so they can come back to it later. Plus, all lessons are recorded. If they need to try a problem again they’re able to go back to those lessons at a later time. And so those students really benefit. 

We have students who are involved in competitive sports. Their schedule needs to have more flexibility because they are dedicated to training. I’ve seen those students really benefit.

Some students really just want to try something different. Their parents have said they just want to see how it goes and they end up just loving the way it’s set up. It also helps if they have to commute an hour or more to their local brick-n-mortar school. Virtual school often works great for them, too!

Brian: Great, very interesting! 

Do virtual schools typically produce LIVE lessons for students? Is it beneficial?

Christiann: A lot of virtual schools are providing live-lessons, but they’re not always considered something that you are expected to attend the program. 

However, I think that attending live lessons is a really important part of the virtual school experience.

Most students in the FLVS Full-time online school program attend live class time lessons. In these lessons is where they’re really getting to learn the content. It gets introduced and they’re able to practice it together.

It’s important that the students are able to hear how other students are solving the same problem. If they’re looking through their online modules or textbook, they might see one way to solve it. And they might be struggling. But when we come together. We’re practicing all the different methods. One student might learn that they multiply the best by using equal groups. Another student might learn the same concept with a number line.

And they’re learning about all these different ways to solve problems together that may be just the teacher alone or just a student or may not even have thought was a strategy. So that is really getting to communicate with your students as a group is as beneficial as the learning part.

Brian: Okay, great to think about.

How do you engage virtual school students in LIVE distance learning lessons?

There are a lot of programs out there that you can use to engage with students even though they’re online. You can see in real-time what they’re working on when they’re doing work on the computer.

They can even have something as simple as a notebook in front of them. If they have a camera to work out their problems and show that.

However, if they don’t have their camera on, or they’re not logged into the additional programs, then I can’t see them working and I might not know how they’re doing it all. 

So they might kind of slip through the cracks there if they’re not participating because I don’t know if that student was understanding the concept or not, because I’ve seen nothing from them.

And so that’s the hardest part because at least if I was in the classroom with them, I could easily see if the student is actively working on the problem.

But, I would say that if you’re coming to class time, most students are participating. Whether it’s a whiteboard and a notebook or an online program to allow us to see that. But that is just one of the differences there that I notice.

Brian: Thanks for sharing that.

How is behavior at an online school compared to the brick-n-mortar school?

Christiann: So, surprisingly, there are behavior issues that arise online. Most behavior issues occur in the chatbox. As a virtual school teacher, it’s important to make sure students are using appropriate language and keeping discussions on-topic.

The brick-n-mortar equivalent would be the student that can’t stop talking during class time. A positive thing about virtual school is that if you notice that a student is angry or upset they can easily take that break and decompress. We don’t have many significant behavior issues in an online school, like violent types of behavior, because it is virtual.

It’s important to think about your classroom norms and expectations. At the beginning of the year, you need to go over those with the students. 

If you have students who are always off task or using inappropriate language, and then you have to turn off your chatbox because of it, well, that’s also going to affect the overall learning that day.

You want to make sure that you have appropriate clothes on. I know it’s not something new that you might think about, but you want to make sure that they have a shirt or close them because they might be thinking they’re at home and they might not need to wear clothes or just even parents walking by in the background, who might be in you know clothing that wouldn’t be appropriate for being on camera.

So overall, the behavior issues that you’re going to see at virtual school are nothing compared to what you would see in a brick-n-mortar classroom. 

If needed, you can easily text or call parents during class time if there’s an issue. I have been able to send a quick text to a parent and then they’re able to make sure that that student at home is now doing what they need to. Then you can keep that participant chat box open.

If you do need to turn off your chatbox. So you always have the option of using microphones and different options like that to allow them to communicate.

Where if you’re in brick-n-mortar and you’re having some kind of extreme behavior that takes over and you might have to leave a classroom. I’ve had students evacuated and have to go into another room until it is safe to return. And now that class has lost a half an hour to an hour of learning time that week. And so that kind of behavior does put the students behind. When you add those up throughout the year, it becomes a significant loss in the number of hours of academic learning. 

So overall, in virtual school you’re getting more out of class time because there’s virtually no interruptions because of behaviors.

Brian: Wow, that’s interesting. There’s more instructional time in the virtual setting compared to at a brick-n-mortar school just because of the behavior, or lack of behavior issues.

Why do parents choose Virtual School? What should parents be considering?

Christiann: Many parents are choosing Virtual School for the flexibility we offer to families.

In addition, families choose to attend online schools for safety. There are parents feeling afraid to send their little ones into school for the first time with all the gun violence and other threats. They’re scared about things that have been occurring in brick-n-mortar schools, like shootings, and they’re just not ready to send their five-year-old off to kindergarten. 

Parents also talk about how their child was having bullying issues and that their local school not responding effectively brought them to FLVS. 

Disabilities, ADD/ADHD and other learning concerns make parents interested in brick-n-mortar public school alternatives like FLVS.

Parents who live far away, or maybe they live on a farm or maybe they just travel a lot for work and they want to still have their kids with them. I have students who joined us because dad travels a lot for work and they want to be able to go with them and stay at these different places with him across the US. 

Parents really need to consider whether they are able to give the time that the student needs to succeed. Are the parents able to help with learning the computer systems, how to upload assignments, and how to log in for class? And they might need to get them a little extra support on working on some assignments, you know, to make sure that they’re understanding.

If you have a full-time job or you can’t dedicate any time to help them, it might not be the best option. Now, a lot of times parents will hire somebody who is like a tutor, or someone like that,  who can help with assignments. So whether that’s you or maybe even a cousin or a grandma who stays home with the kids. You just need to have somebody there with extra support. You can’t just think that you signed up online and now that you’ve signed up everything is done.

Brian: I see. So what you’re saying is like anything the student and the parents are going to get what they put into the situation. If they’re trying to help their kid be a success, they’re going to be a success.

What else should parents, students, and brick-n-mortar teachers know about virtual elementary school and distance learning?

Christiann: It’s okay to feel overwhelmed at the beginning of virtual school because anything you do that’s brand new, it’s going to feel overwhelming, but you have to give it some time and then once you start to adjust the Virtual School is just as easy to keep up with as brick-n-mortar.

I think that sometimes the brick-n-mortar teachers feel that the virtual teachers aren’t doing the same thing as they are. But, we are doing almost the exact same thing. It’s just that we’re doing it virtually. We’re having faculty meetings, we’re looking at data together, we have tier two, and tier three support for those are the students who need it. We are meeting as a team to help push students forward. We have a class time. Anything you can think of that you did brick-n-mortar, we are doing it virtually. It’s just we’re all at home when we do it.

And you can do all these things a little bit more successfully and you have a little bit of flexibility, for both the teachers and the students. And that’s always nice.

Whenever a brick-n-mortar teacher finds out that I work virtually, they want to know what it’s like. What goes on? Most have tons of questions about how our days might be different. Or about what we’re doing. 

I let teachers that are interested in becoming a virtual teacher know that they should have no problem being on camera because you spend most of your day being on camera with each other. And just being able to use technology that’s going to be the main point because there are so many different programs and things that you can utilize to really enhance learning.

So if you are just thinking that you’re just going to hop into a zoom classroom and lecture the students, don’t. The students are not going to get anything out of that. So really explore all those different tech tools that you can use out there to get everybody to participate. Being very knowledgeable about technology is going to be an important part.

Also, keep yourself open to having communication with everybody.

Brian: Perfect, thanks for sharing those valuable insights. To finish,

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen while teaching virtual elementary school at FLVS?

Christiann: Yeah, so this goes with how students can literally be anywhere to learn. I had a student who was in the pool swimming but he had his laptop over on the edge of the pool. 

And surprisingly, he was listening and participating! 

We played a Kahoot, which is like a fun quiz, and he actually ended up winning the game.

It was on video so we could all see him in the pool. But, he was still learning and participating. So they’re excited about learning because they’re not just stuck in their desk in their classroom.

Brian: That’s incredible. And I think that sort of answers my next question.

Do students enjoy Virtual School?

Christiann: Absolutely. Most students love it. It does depend on the student, but overall the students really do enjoy that virtual engagement, especially if it’s somebody who’s going to be doing a homeschool option because now they’re getting to communicate with their peers.

You would think that most students would be waiting for class time to end, but, for example, at the end of my summer reading camp, I thought the students were going to be so excited to start their summer vacation because they were already doing an extra few weeks of school to help with their reading, but they were all really sad about class ending for the summer!

We all kind of form a close bond because we’re always on camera together and they can just share those different experiences. So overall, the students really like it. They like having the flexibility, they’re always telling me about different things that they’re doing in addition to being an online school student and everybody’s stories are always different. What brings them. And so it was really cool to see that.

Brian: Wonderful, I think that’s a perfect spot to leave it. Thank you, Christiann for sharing your experience at FLVS, Florida Virtual School. I’m looking forward to speaking with you again and diving deeper into this very interesting topic. Thanks.

Christiann: Thank you.