Teacher shortages have been pervasive throughout the US for the past several years, and as districts increasingly turn to online learning as a result of school closures, these shortages can pose an even bigger problem for understaffed schools and districts. Particularly for younger students and students with special educational needs, online learning requires the support and guidance of an engaged and experienced teacher. And unfortunately, a recent study shows that not only are education schools graduating fewer teachers, but students are not even entering teacher preparation programs to begin with. And to add to those concerns, on average, over 50% of teachers leave the profession within 5 years. In particular, special education, foreign language, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classes have been hit hard by a lack of qualified teachers.
What’s a district to do when dealing with school closures and teacher shortage? Though the best option is for students to have a live teacher in the classroom using technology, textbooks, and teacher craft, there are other good options out there, as many educators are discovering. And fortunately, some options, like virtual instruction, can help to both alleviate the burden placed on your teachers during school closures and address teacher shortages both now and in the future.
Why Offer Virtual Instruction?
There are lots of ways to keep kids learning during a closure, but keeping them progressing in their learning and earning credit can be a real challenge, especially when students have limited access to Wi-Fi or a device. Adding virtual instruction to your district’s tool belt can help you give students the flexibility to continue learning any time and any place they need, while also filling any staffing needs with state-certified instructors.
And while many teachers have lots of experience using technology to teach, we’ve entered a new instructional landscape, which can make transitioning to fully online learning tricky for even the best prepared among us. Turning to virtual instruction—whether using your district teachers, highly qualified virtual instructors, or a combination of the two—can lift some of the burden off your teachers, so they can focus more on supporting students’ social and emotional needs through this trying time.
Online learning has been available in various forms for years now, and there are still plenty of people who have concerns about how learning can happen when students and teachers aren’t together. To help mitigate this, make sure to clearly explain to everyone (staff, students, and family members) what changes are being made, and what the new expectations are for everyone. Develop and share resources to give parents the information they need to be able to support students in their learning, and share family logins where available so parents can proactively monitor student progress and easily communicate with instructors. And importantly, keep communication lines open so you can quickly react if changes are necessary to better meet student needs and district or federal requirements.
Tips for Incorporating Virtual Instruction to Address School Closures and Teacher Shortage
After you’ve decided to incorporate virtual instruction into your school or district, start investigating providers. Seek out a partner that offers the support and guidance you need to get your program off the ground, and that also provides high-quality curriculum, state-certified virtual instruction, and training with continued support so your program is successful.
Here are some important things to consider when choosing a virtual instruction partner:
- Look for a courseware partner that offers engaging, standards-aligned curriculum that features interactive, media-rich instruction.
- Be sure the partner offers highly qualified, state-certified virtual instructors who communicate regularly with students and prioritize relationship-building to offer truly personalized instruction and attention. And ask about on-demand tutoring so students can get the help they need whenever they need it.
- Inquire about supports for students who are on IEPs or 504 plans to help with the caseload.
- And importantly, find out what supports are available to district and administrative personnel. A good partner will guide you through the design and implementation processes, and still be available to you after your program is successfully up and running, which is especially critical at a time like this.
Look for a provider that can help you with continuity of learning during a school closure, and later, after students and staff have returned to the school building. So as you work to get your program up and running quickly, think about what you might need from them in six or nine months. Course expansion? NCAA courses? Full K–12 coverage? Because virtual instruction can be customized to meet your needs and help you better serve more students, many districts have found it to be something of a game changer, especially now.
Partelow, L. (2019, December 3). What to make of declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2019/12/03/477311/make-declining-enrollment-teacher-preparation-programs/