Why I Love to Teach Online
A Conversation With Ellen O’Loughlin, AmeriSchools Online Instructor
AmeriSchools Perspectives (AP): What do you find most rewarding and gratifying about being a teacher?
Ellen O’Loughlin (EOL): It feels great to hear my students discussing among themselves how much fun they have had during a lesson or how they are inspired to research more about a topic. Learning is about inspiring, encouraging, and sparking an interest to search for answers beyond the pen and paper.
AP: What is the key to engaging and motivating students to learn?
EOL: First, you must earn their trust. Show them that you believe in them. Encourage them every day with positive words and constructive feedback that helps them grow. One student told me that he hates to make mistakes. I reminded him that mistakes are great. When he seemed puzzled, I explained that mistakes are opportunities to improve ourselves. Some of my greatest mistakes have led me to some
of the most rewarding experiences
I have ever had.
AP: What do you feel is the biggest challenge to teaching?
EOL: Having preconceived ideas allows us to fall into the trap of assuming we must do something in the same way every time. That is rote learning, not creative learning. By asking questions and attempting to do things in different ways we develop critical thinking skills. Students have different learning styles and a recognition of this is critical for effective teaching. When we encourage students to ask the “why” questions to identify different phenomena in our midst, that is learning! That is exciting.
AP: What motivated you to become a teacher?
EOL: Being surrounded by a father, siblings, and many other family members who decided to pursue careers in engineering, I too, initially, chose this as my field of study in college. But after a semester of engineering classes, I realized that my true calling was teaching children. Growing up, I spent numerous hours playing with my little sister and her friends, teaching them math facts, reading to them, and learning about different places in the world.
AP: Do you find yourself growing and learning as a teacher?
EOL: I am in a constant state of growth. Every time I teach a group of students, I grow as a teacher. Every year, students have different backgrounds, ideas, and questions. No group is ever the same. I take the time to build relationships with my students, understand what they want to learn, how they learn, and why they are learning. Setting realistic goals is a critical step in the learning process, whether for teachers or students.
AP: Why do you love to teach?
EOL: Teaching lets me explore all the interests I was not able to explore as a child. It also gives me an opportunity to relive some of the greatest “aha” moments from childhood. I get to share my love for learning with my students. They can see how education can still be fun and exciting as you get older. I like to show them that I am not finished learning. It is an ongoing process for me. I will always continue to learn and grow; that is what teachers do every day of our lives. Improving my skills in cutting and pasting, researching topics, and sharing documents is part of my daily process with my students. I learn new tricks daily as I continue to explore, learn, and practice these skills.
AP: How does online instruction compare with in-person instruction for K-12?
EOL: Online instruction provides a unique opportunity to teach students 21st century skills. Our world is moving more and more toward electronic transactions, communications, and marketing. Online connections are bridging gaps between people and countries like we have never seen before.
Cultural trends, ideas, and new discoveries can be instantly experienced in real time. Being able to share these experiences without expense or travel time makes online learning fantastic. Children can work at their own pace without distractions. They get immediate feedback from their teachers and classmates. By using chat, their thoughts are uninterrupted, unlike in a traditional classroom. Students can still have rich discussions, just conducted through a different modality.
Another advantage of online teaching is students have several electronic resources at their fingertips. There is no need to spend hours in the library when you can surf the Internet using key words or phrases. Students become more independent thinkers. They use their critical thinking skills to increase their knowledge on any given topic. The transfer of knowledge is faster, more accessible, and more convenient for the modern family without having to leave the house.
The greatest challenges of online teaching involve the teacher environment, student environment, instructional software, and training of teachers, parents, and students on how to use the technology in the most effective ways.
AP: Do you think different age groups respond differently to online learning?
EOL: Yes, younger students are more engaged in story time activities and activities where they can “play” a part. They need to learn how to engage in online interactive activities. This takes a bit of instructional training, but young children can thrive if given the opportunity to explore on their own. Providing students with recommended “child-safe” activities gives parents the peace of mind that their children can explore without the worries of being exposed to inappropriate content or inferior instruction. Young children need “discovery” moments. This helps build independence and helps them to become better problem solvers.
AP: Which age groups respond best to online learning?
EOL: The ideal age group for online learning is from third grade through high school age students. Children who are non-readers struggle with online learning and need more guidance and supervision. When they can read independently, they can more easily participate in the benefits of online learning.
Pre-Kindergarten to second grade students can benefit from online learning, but more fundamental needs must be addressed. At this age, children need to focus on important social skills and skills related to math and reading. Pre-K children need to learn social intelligence through play and self-discovery. They are constantly learning new vocabulary and are excited to try out their new words with their friends. Understanding how to communicate is the primary goal of this age group.
AP: How do you work to overcome challenges specific to the online environment?
EOL: Vital to the success of the online learning environment is ongoing parent, student, and teacher technology training. I regularly provide training to parents and students on how to use the software with their devices. There are specific ways to use iPads, laptops, and desktop computers.
As a teacher, you need to understand how each device works to help troubleshoot problems that may arise during a lesson. If students have too many tabs open, there is too much information trying to pass through the bandwidth of the Internet. If a device has low memory, it will not be able to display all the types of files being shared. I often ask students what types of problems they are having. I address each of these problems in an online discussion with the class. I display different problems and then demonstrate how to fix these problems.
AP: What do you think is the future of online learning for K-12 education?
EOL: I think more and more students will turn to online learning. We are teaching 21st century skills that students will extensively use in their future careers. Everything around us is supported by technology. We need to teach, and students need to learn, using the same technology. We must speak the same technology language to the students as what they are using in their Internet experiences, i.e. gaming, video chats, text messages, etc. ⁄
Ellen O’Loughlin’s Biography:
My family has produced many engineers, so I initially set my sights on an engineering career. But fortunately, I discovered and embraced my love and talent for teaching children. Moving from Kansas to California to Arizona, my education was divided between Wichita State University, San Diego State University, the University of San Diego, and Arizona State University. My career, in addition to teaching children, has included positions in Technical English instruction in Germany, technical project management in the banking industry, and real estate sales. I have been back in the classroom consistently for the past 19 years, coming onboard with AmeriSchools in 2020. Late last year my mother’s health declined, and I returned to Kansas to manage her care. Fortunately, I was able to continue teaching my Phoenix class online from Kansas while overseeing my mother’s healthcare needs. Had it not been for online learning, I would not have been able to stay employed, let alone care for my family. I am pleased to be a part of AmeriSchools and this monumental shift in instruction. We are doing this for our children. We are giving them the best of the best. We are building the minds of the future.