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By Nicole Hamilton (she/her) and Danika Cottingham (she/her), online teachers, Courtenay

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced face-to-face/brick-and mortar teachers into what may be referred to as “emergency remote teaching,”1 and while many educators now have a taste of the life of an online teacher, it is important to note that this is not the norm for online learning (OL) programs, nor the intended style or format of OL.

Aside from a massive increase in enrolment due to the pandemic, and added stress on already overworked teachers, it has been “business as usual” throughout the past three school years in OL. More telling is that even after other BC schools reopened, many families continued with OL and re-registered the following year. Why? Because OL teaching is quality programming that mandates individualized student learning plans (for K–9 students) and adherence to the BC curriculum. It became the best option for their children, not the last option.

Most secondary public OL teachers in our province work in continuously enrolling, asynchronous environments—meaning they have students starting and finishing courses throughout the year and working at vastly different speeds through the material. This means we usually communicate with, teach, and share learning experiences with around 670 students during the school year (September–June), but have approximately 220–275 students on our caseloads at any given point in the year. The asynchronous nature of learning increases pressure on teachers for timely feedback to students, which results in many OL teachers working through evenings, holidays, and weekends so we don’t fall behind on marking.

Like all other teachers, our work is “heart work,” and we wear a plethora of hats at any given time: advisor, mentor, coach, collaborator, administrator, comedian; the list goes on and on. And just like all teachers, we work within the same expectations for building relationships, providing quality and timely feedback and assessment, and frequent reporting. Maintaining these expectations with 670 students on our caseloads each year can lead to overwhelming and unsustainable feelings for a lot of OL teachers.

Our OL colleagues work the typical contracted school year just like face-to-face teachers, but OL students may go beyond that time—meaning summer school contracts become available to ensure the learning can continue.

Unlike face-to-face teachers, the number of individual courses an OL teacher is responsible for can fluctuate drastically. For example, if a teacher has a high-demand course, like English Studies 12, they may focus solely on the one subject. On the other hand, a teacher may have 10–15 different courses with much lower enrolment in each. In either case, the OL teacher is responsible for many of the tasks that are completed by counsellors or administrative assistants in other brick-and-mortar secondary schools, and this is in addition to our regular workload.

Because there is no collective agreement language at all for OL teachers when it comes to workload or composition of classes, there is nothing limiting employers from continuously adding students to courses. The result? Staffing FTE remains steady in OL but may be reduced in face-to-face environments as a result of shifting student numbers. Language that protects class size and composition in OL protects all members.

1 thejournal.com/articles/2020/07/08/its-not-online-ed-call-it-crisis-teaching.aspx

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Category/Topic: Teacher Magazine