Oh the places you’ll go! A day in the life of an online teacher/jack-of-all-trades.

7:00 AM : The caffeine has not yet reached my finger-tips as I log in.  There are five IM’s awaiting me from my night owls.  I know I logged out after midnight so they have really been up late.  I respond to their concerns: two clarification questions, one request for an appointment, and two letting me know they turned something in and can I be sure to grade today so that their grades improve before their schools check sports eligibility.

I take a moment to grade those items and update the students on their progress. I check my schedule against the student request. 8:15 pm is when the appointment time comes. I also reply to an email from the tech folks about my IP phone.  It’s been non-operational since last Monday.  That’s ok. I prefer my cell phone.  I let them know I’ll drive up and meet the in Heyworth, IL at 2:30 pm. I grumble internally about the fact that I haven’t figured out how to be both online and driving (legally).

9:00 AM: Meeting with a Physics student in Elluminate.  Having trouble thinking through a “derive an expression” question.  I share a favorite page with Trig identities on the screen.  He has an AHA! He draws the triangle on the screen and correctly labels the parts with the correct formulas.  He has a second AHA!  Because he has an accurate picture he sees that Mass cancels out in this particular equation so it doesn’t matter how big the car is.  He  says he has it from here and wishes me a Happy Halloween.

9:30 AM: Communications logs.  I hated them in face-2-face school, I still dislike them, but understand the necessary evil.  I log the IM’s and the Elluminate. I also log one from the night before.  I realize that the SIS isn’t taking my date correction.  I email our SIS Integration and all things behind-the-scenes guru, Maria.  She tells me that it is a known glitch and is on the repair notes for the next release of our custom SIS.

10:00 AM Back in Elluminate. This student is 100 pts from graduating.  He is just 1 set of Earth Science knowledge away from finishing school.  I can tell he’s excited.  His issue it turns out is simple, he forgot to enter the license code for the GIS software he downloaded from us and his trial period has expired.  We get his software license entered and he is off like gangbusters, analyzing hurricane patterns in the 80s and comparing them to the 2000s.  We talk about Sandy which just hit the east coast Monday night.  He can’t stand Jersey Shore.  I tell him I have fond memories of Atlantic City as a kid, before reality TV.  He asks what people used to do with their home videos before YouTube.  I laugh, and tell him we forced our friends to watch them on special occasions. We find a great image of satellite cloud cover comparing Sandy to Irene, and he decides that he wants to find size images for each of his project hurricanes to observe patterns.  He’s wondering if climate change is visible.

I’m going to miss this kid when he graduates.  I tell him so. We log out, its 11:30 AM

I didn’t go to my son’s Halloween Parade with my husband.  He is texting me pics.  Donnie is Batman.

Today is a half day for my children.  They’ve had a lot of those this year.  I take a moment to coordinate whereabouts, food, raking of leaves and cars. I usually decorate more for Halloween, but its been a busy year.  Candy will do.  I resist opening some early.

12:00 PM Back to work. This time course re-development.  We have a Mandarin Chinese course which we are revising and redesigning.  Much of it is the same just cleaner and modernized code.  Some of it is completely different.  Coding in Chinese is brain draining. It requires knowledge of English, Pinyin (phonetic chinese), Simplified Chinese Characters, Traditional Chinese Characters, HTML, java, flash and CSS.   Today I have instructions to start with some proofing tasks before moving on to the newest module.  Proofing is the part I like.  It often like solving a puzzle.

1:45 PM For some reason the Tech’s didn’t get my responses about meeting up to fix the IP phone.  I have to restrain myself from being too grumpy at this point, because I am annoyed at having to log off and meet them in the first place, but also because tech people are sometimes not social savvy and can say things in a really aggressive and abrupt way.  I know I fall in danger of becoming that mix of socially awkward recluse when I am too deep in the code myself.  I manage to keep it short and to the point.  Log off, unhook the router they need, and get ready to walk out.  My daughter who borrowed the car to go see her grandpa is late getting back.  This does not alleviate my previous grumpiness.  Its a beautiful day in the midwest.  I know so many people in the East are still without power.  I regain my perspective just as my late child pulls up.

2:30 PM I arrive at Heyworth having re-acclimated to the world beyond the screen.  The tech I am supposed to meet isn’t here yet.  I buy some coffee and settle in to catch up via my smart phone.  10-15 emails later he still hasn’t arrived.

3:00 PM: He arrives and sets to work, I make friends with the gas station attendant.  I chat with a few gentlemen, the 5 older guys who have coffee everyday at this location.  One of them has a grandson taking classes from IVS.  He thinks it’s really neat.

I take a call from a student, and stop to teach a student how to set up a dihybrid cross in the middle of Huck’s.  I’m using skype to screenshare since I brought my iPad not my full laptop with me.  I realize belatedly that I am standing with my back to the beer display.  Oh well, another reason to screen share and not use the webcam.  I rarely like webcams anyway.  I want students to see what I’m showing– not me.

3:15 PM: Back on the road.  Talking about my encounter with the Tech guy with Maria.  She shares her own stories of dealing with people who live in the behind-the-scenes.  Between us we refer to it as always being “in something’s back end”.  Our boss thinks that phrasing might offend some people.  We still say it, but only among friends.  You have to have fun with this job.  Thanks to bluetooth with my car I can at least talk while driving.  I feel less cut off.

4:00 PM: Back at the house.  I check in and then hook up the IP Phone router.  I then email the original tech that it is up and ready for him to access via the cloud.  I return to student work and feedback.  I’m getting a lot handed in today because yesterday was Zero day.  Zero day is when I go into the grade book and put zeros in for any work which the student was expected to have turned in before now.  I again hold the internal mental debate, since the zero’s can be made up, and the pacing guide is a recommendation, why do I have to enter them?  In my ideal online environment I would never add zeros.  However, IVS admin believes the best practice is that pacing students increases student completion rates.  I wish there were some research on the topic, not for the first time.  I file this away under things I might research if I ever did a PhD program and go back to student work.

My boss needs something for the Virtual Voice, our IVS newsletter, on the helpdesk system.  I’m the lead for teacher technical support so this falls to me.  We have a small staff at IVS, only 7 full timers the rest are adjunct teachers, so in addition to my teaching and course building/programming duties I am a support tech.  I write the newsletter article up and email it on.

5:00 PM I need to get off here and get ready for Trick-Or-Treat.  I also need to rewrite an AP Bio lab.  Labs online are tricky because you have to balance what kids can safely do at a distance, and what they can’t.  I use a lot of elluminate for labs.  I don’t believe in doing fully online labs to substitute for real lab work.  Students need the hands on.  They also need computational science and modelling.  On the other hand simulations which are all preset are nice pre-labs, but I don’t feel they really meet the student’s need for inquiry.  Anyway, the AP Bio curriculum requirements were rewritten last year and agree with me.  So I love it, but it also means a lot of planning on my part to re-write the labs to meet IVS student’s need. We don’t have a curriculum department like some virtuals.  We are real teachers who make real teacher decisions just like in face-2-face.  That is a different rant and I will save that for a future post.

On the other hand AP Chem is resetting this school year and CB has already announced that they will not accept any computational activities.  I was a graduate fellow in computational Chemistry at ICLCS.  This saddens me that I won’t be able to use that very good material in my labs.  It also cracks me up, because in my college level Chemistry class at Millikin University its perfectly fine, just not for the College Board. I am not worried though because I have been a strong advocate for wet chemistry and have a working system for that in place at IVS already. Some other virtuals have not gone that route and I hear are in panic mode about their future with AP Chem right now.

6:00 PM: Lab is rewritten.  Time for Trick-or-Treat.  I take a pic of my 7 year old, note my open laptop in the corner of the image. My sweet spouse brings me a plate of spaghetti and tells me I forgot to eat again today.  I tell him I had an over-sweetened cappuccino coffee at Huck’s. Diet of champions.

7:00 PM: Student calls.  I leave my teenagers to pass out candy and log back in.  We work through genetic crosses.  Punnett squares are simple enough when you share a screen, but often confusing to just read and decipher.  We hop into elluminate. When I finish, I hop into the discussion boards and participate.

7:30 Back with the Trick-Or-Treaters.  Texting with students as I walk the streets of my home town standing patiently at the sidewalk and making sure my little guy remembers to be polite and say “Thank you.” He’s getting tired finally.  Mom already was.  I remember when I thought patting my head and rubbing my belly at the same time was complicated.  Try texting chemistry and biology advice while walking and supervising an over-sugared 7 year old.  Complicated has taken on new meaning.

8:15 PM Trick-or-Treat is over.  My youngest is checking his haul over for safety with my husband.  My student from this morning is late calling.  I take the time to log student contacts again. It’s been a busy day.  It always amazes me when I do the logs how many conversations 1-on-1, IM, elluminate, phone.  I talk directly to my students now more than I ever had time for in my years as a face-2-face teacher.  Its both a blessing and a curse.  I take a moment to be nostalgic for the days when I would see them casually in the hallways or at the gas station.  I knew more about their non-academic lives then.  On the other hand I see more clearly my student’s academic lives, their good and bad habits, their misconceptions.

I do in some ways miss the captive audience –at least when it comes to my lower achievers.  In face-2-face, by virtue of the fact that many of them attend rather than go truant, they show up.  Which means if something I do is interesting enough they might perk up and pay attention.  Then eventually it became something they did because the could or wanted to, rather than had to.  In virtual, they have to start with motivation.  There is no truant officer saying you have to login, answer the phone, text your teacher.  I call, write, email, IM often.

Speaking of 8:20…time to call this girl since she hasn’t called me

9:30 PM  I just finished with my Chem student.  We identified some gaps in her prior knowledge and set about correcting them.  So, we reviewed some basics, then did some very simplified problems.  We made another appointment for Friday afternoon. We’ll try to start on the problems which are at grade level then.This student has a face-2-face tutor as well who is going to give her some practice problems between now and Friday to help shore up those gaps.

I have an email from another student.  They have an inquiry lab midterm, and he is emailing me his lab proposal.  He is proposing that the game Angry Birds follows the physical model known as the Impulse-Momentum theory and devising a test setup to demonstrate the relationship. Its a little past due, so I want to get this back tonight so he can begin work.  Again, I know he got it to me because of the Zeros.  He is one for who the policy is a motivator, so that’s good.  In the same batch of emails though, I see a request to drop.  I don’t really have any say in this, but it saddens me.  This is one student for who the zeros made the task feel insurmountable, so she chose not to try.  I send her an email offering extra support if she will stay in the class.  I am salaried, not per student basis, so this isn’t a money thing for me.  I just hate to see kids learn the lesson that giving up is an option.  It doesn’t feel like a good ethic to teach.

Sigh.  I hope it makes a difference.

My Book Shelf complete with wires running all around the books.

10:00 PM Hey…the IP Phone is working!  Just got a text.  Physics student wants to know if 58 is the same as problem 38.  Dragging the book off of the shelf.  This is an AP class and yes we still use textbooks.  My students say that given the lectures are online (and the interactives and the assignments and the tests…) they feel better with something print and not requiring a power source to look at sometimes.  Plus eBook licenses for texts are cost prohibitive for a small section like mine.  So off to find the print version it is.

No, it isn’t the same.  But I can see why she’s thinking that.  I sketch a diagram take a photo with my phone and text it back

I jot myself notes about the things left started today but incomplete.  And a reminder to log tonight’s contacts. (Did I mention my lack of love for all this documentation?)

10:30 PM My student with the drop request has emailed back.  She really is dropping.  Apparently she had 6 AP’s and a college course and felt completely overwhelmed.  I get it, I do.  I wish her well with her future plans.  Was going to end my day, but it’s on a down note.  So I go back to lab planning.  I really do like the new AP Biology Lab ideas, so its a good place to put my focus for an upbeat end to the day.  The house is quiet.  My whole family, dogs included have gone to sleep. One more to-do checked off.  I feel much better.

Reflection on the day-It’s been 16 hours since I began working.  There were a only few moments in the day where I could be considered to be half working, like when I was driving to Heyworth, or while I was trick-or-treating.  I know many people who think people who work from home sit around in PJ’s and eat bon-bons all day. It isn’t so, at least not for me or the other online teacher’s I know.  Today is a fairly typical day for me. A balancing act between teaching duties, tech support duties, and mom duties.  And most days my mind works from dawn until near midnight.  Television is sometimes on in the background, but I don’t really watch it anymore.  Books are on my iPad, phone, and shelves waiting patiently for me to remember to read them, but probably not until the weekend.  Saturday mornings I insist on Cartoons, reading and no work until noon.  Sundays I try for Church and dinner at my Dad’s.  But often, I work through those things too, or half work.  Online teaching as I have said before is a lifestyle.  It affords me the freedom to take breaks at odd moments, but it also demands I take breaks from other parts of my life at odd moments.  The flexibility goes both ways.

11:00 PM No rest for the wicked.  My physics student just texted back. She’s stumped on an equation.  Back to the bookshelf to see what she’s looking at. I think she’s trying to use an equation I specifically said, “skip, we’re not covering this.” Yep that’s exactly what she’s done.  Back on track now.  Leaving IM open, but turning phone off and otherwise shutting down. It can wait until tomorrow.

Goodnight Blog.


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