Teachers Cory Hurst and Leah Markham never have to tell their students off for being late to school, for not wearing the correct uniform to ‘class’ and definitely not for spending too much time online. As part of iCademy’s faculty of international staff, both teachers use the world wide web as their classroom allowing them to reach students all over the UAE, the Middle East and beyond via their laptops.
Cory and Leah both acknowledge that the life of an online teacher is far removed from the classroom environment a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ school offers, but at its core the principals of engaging with pupils and creating an atmosphere of fun and learning are still the same, if not even more important. Cory, who has taught K-6 Social Studies and History throughout his five years with iCademy, said the benefits of her modern ‘online’ classroom outweigh any restrictions and have helped to add another dimension of satisfaction, as well welcome challenges, to a job he has always found to be hugely rewarding.
“Each week is unique for me as I am always working with students and other staff in new and exciting ways,” said Cory, who began his path in education in Michigan, USA where he grew up and also attended Michigan State University. “In addition to teaching, I am met with new situations that allow me to help students in a variety of ways. My working week is always centered around my students and fellow teachers to help them all succeed the best they can.”
However, not being sat behind a desk an office or classroom does not mean iCademy’s faculty teachers have any less work, as Leah can attest. “Most of my week is spent grading assignments and communicating with students, just via email or online chat instead of face to face,” said the Middle School Social Studies teacher who has been with iCademy for just over a year. “Online ‘class connect’ sessions are my favorite part of the week because I get to have virtual interaction with my students.”
Online teaching allows iCademy’s faculty to reach students all over the world in a wide variety of locations, explains Cory, with each youngster’s experiences, lifestyle and location having an impact on the teachers themselves. “One of the biggest joys of teaching online is the diversity of students I teach,” she said. “Not only are students learning from all around the world, but they bring with them such valuable experiences and insights. I enjoy learning from them as well as having them share with their classmates.”
Creativity, as well as teaching, is a key part of online education at iCademy with each subject having to be delivered in new, inspiring ways to a diverse range of students who are only connected via a Wi-Fi signal. “You have to get creative with making sure you students are understanding the content,” said Leah. “In a ‘brick and mortar’ school you can visually see when a student is not understanding something but with an online school you do not have that, so I make sure to check with the students frequently to see how they are coming along with the content. I am always available to answer questions and my students know this.”
Teachers at iCademy develop a unique relationship with their students through working online, but both Leah and Cory have found ways to remain close to the youngsters they teach. “Previously in a ‘brick and mortar’ school I would only see my students for an hour a day, and even then I would have a room of about 30 students,” said Cory. “The interactions were sometimes limited even though we were face to face. Now, I speak with students throughout the week at all different times. The flexibility of work and communication allows for greater opportunities to connect and work together.”
One of the main plus points of an online-based teaching environment, both for students and teachers, is flexibility, said Cory. “Flexibility might be one of the biggest advantages for everyone involved,” she said. “Flexibility in when and how both teachers and students work means they we can teach and learn from anywhere, at any time. This is beneficial in so many ways, but ultimately, it allows for people from all around the world to come together to teach and learn effectively.”
Leah describes the flexibility in terms of timings and location that online teaching gives students and teachers as “amazing”. “For my students I think the biggest advantage is being able to continue learning while traveling. So many students travel frequently but with iCademy they are able to take their school with them,” she said. “Additionally, being able to learn on a virtual platform at a young age is going to benefit them in the future with some many universities offering online classes they will be ahead of the game.”
However, the main drawback can be a lack of connection, with both teacher and student only interacting online. Leah and Cory work hard to maintain a strong bond with their students, to quickly spot any dip in their performance and to address any issues. “I feel like it could be easy to lose that bond with students because we are not face to face,” said Leah. “But I try to make my ‘class connect sessions’ interactive and include my students. I also talk with them and learn who they are and their likes and dislikes. They still very much want to talk, and I let them. I think I still develop a bond with my online students just virtually. My students from the last school year still reach out to talk to me even though I am not their teacher this year.”