A Deliberate Teacher Transition To Online Learning

Chelsea Penney
September 6, 2022

When Mary Jo Windley approached retirement from her brick and mortar education career, she wasn’t ready to stop teaching. She loves connecting with students but wanted to drop the commute and long hours. Mrs. Windley has the joyful demeanor, thirst for knowledge, and passion for technology that led her to search for online teaching jobs from home. 

Teacher Transitions To Virtual School

Mrs. Windley was deliberate in her process and chose to apply to teach with Proximity Learning because of the research she conducted on the company and the alternatives. Proximity Learning offered the community she was looking to join. 

“Well, I'm glad you asked about my choice. It was intentional. I was completing my state service with retirement, and then I wanted to do something. I was going to be able to choose my next adventure. And I did research on all of the online teaching jobs in virtual learning. It was very deliberate that I selected Proximity Learning. I researched as much as I could about the company and connected on social media.”

She explains, “We had a virtual learning classroom in my former brick and mortar high school, so I was familiar with some of the other providers. I was familiar with experiences, so I took that to heart and I thought, ‘Well, I want to be the best and offer the best possible experiences and the highest quality to our students.’”

Virtual Teacher Training

After being hired, Mrs. Windley attended virtual training to prepare her to start teaching online classes. As a technology lover, she was uniquely qualified for her role but still learned new tools and techniques during onboarding. 

“We have colleagues, teachers, trainers, mentors that are always ready to connect with you as soon as you get on board and share those wonderful tips and tricks. I attended each and every session of our kickoff. And of course, being a lover of technology, I was just amazed at my Teaching and Learning Specialists that were presenting. I love seeing some new tricks in Canva and Wordwall. I was learning technology, so I love that too. Being a part of the Proximity Learning team, I'm constantly learning from colleagues. We have some wonderful colleagues who are very supportive so that new teachers can be successful.”

Online Teacher Qualifications 

“I had a distinguished career in healthcare and hospitals. When I married a teacher, I career-transitioned and acquired more degrees to go into education. I have twenty five years experience teaching in brick and mortar, high school business and information technology education. 

“I was there during the exciting time when the web developed, and so I taught web page design and e-commerce. I grew up with digital technologies, and that led me to see that my students were having this wonderful, great opportunity for virtual learning in college degrees, and I was jealous. 

“So my passion is in technology, as you might guess. I wanted to get a master's degree in technology. But I'm living here in rural North Carolina, so that would require driving over a hundred miles to get a degree in school administration. That was not my passion at the time, so I took my first virtual course for my master's degree and I loved it.”

“I will always describe virtual learning as the great equalizer, providing opportunities to do what you love and explore different fields that may not be local to you.”

“I completed my master's degree in technology, and continued to teach. I had no idea what a transformation that would be for my career. I was sought after to teach university courses, so I've just completed fifteen years with DeVry University as a virtual and hybrid adjunct and I love that. So I've been online and meeting with students for the past fifteen years.”

Equitable Education For Students

This year, Mrs. Windley is teaching seven marketing and business technology courses to middle and high school students virtually through Proximity Learning. While she lives in coastal North Carolina, her expertise reaches virtual students in West Virginia and Georgia.

“It is awesome. Teaching students in a different state makes you feel like a time traveler. I become very interested in my students and what's going on in their towns that they share with me. I really do feel like I get this wonderful opportunity to be in Georgia and hear about the wonderful things, and to be in West Virginia and hear about the cold and the mountains there. My bucket list is to visit all fifty States. So I'm getting lots of ideas from the wonderful, wonderful students that I share part of my day with.” She has visited 25 states so far, inspired by her students and her son-in-law in the military.

“I just think what a great opportunity to reach out to students and offer them this gift of being able to take the class that they want to, that they might be limited by their location or opportunities.”

Benefits of Online Teaching Jobs From Home

“We always love our students. We learn from our students, and so it's all about spending time with students.

“But teaching in person was different. I would have to get up at 5:30 a.m. in the morning and make the commute. I had to pay for gas and a wardrobe. I finished my state career as a Technology Instructional Coordinator and a Career Development Coordinator, so I had to dress professionally. 

“It was a very long day. Sometimes I would be at school perhaps twelve hours, and we had a lot of night events. The flexibility is just amazing to teach from home every day. I would come home after a long day at maybe five o'clock, after commuting, and I'd be too tired to cook dinner, so we would eat out.” 

“I have gotten back to my quality of life. I highly recommend Proximity Learning.”

“Being a new virtual teacher, joining Proximity Learning, and having a whole new career focus has just been very rejuvenating.”

Online Teacher Community

Although she teaches from her home, Mrs. Windley enjoys the Proximity Learning teacher community. “I'm with two virtual schools, so the faculty meet regularly, and I see my colleagues who are in our zoom meetings. I feel very connected to teachers being a team at the same school.”

Reconnecting With Hobbies

Mrs. Windley traded in long hours and a commute for a flexible schedule teaching from home. “I love the work/life balance with Proximity Learning. I am about three minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and the beach, and it's just amazing to actually be able to go out to lunch with my husband and go for a walk in the neighborhood or along the bay. I can step out and be back quickly. I also like to spin and do yoga at the Y. So it just gives me more time. The flexibility is awesome to stay active and stay healthy.”

“Also, I love cooking, and so yesterday I had a nice two-hour chunk of time. I am just a few steps away from my kitchen, and I can try those great recipes that I find on Pinterest. My husband loves it too.”

Investing In Online Learners

Mrs. Windley gets to know her students by starting each class with a bellringer. She will share a meme, create a survey or ask an open ended question. She learns about students’ pets, hobbies, favorite movies and more, which she can then incorporate into her lesson plans. 

Mrs. Windley believes she makes a greater impact on her students by teaching virtually. “My students, as well as myself, may not have access to this selected class if there were not virtual opportunities. I remember being from a very rural town. We're about one hundred miles from the nearest university that my bachelor's degree was from, and so it's like they would be limited as I was all those years ago in their opportunities for education. 

“When I was in high school, there was only one world language offered and French was it, although Spanish was prevalent in our area, because they could find someone that was living in the community that taught French. I remember how there was a little discontent, so I'm very compassionate to that. 

“Schools have really been amazing at partnering with Proximity Learning and offering the courses students would like to take or subjects they wish to explore, because we can always change our minds. I started off in a health career, and by marriage and family I changed to education, and so we don't pick a career at age fourteen and fifteen. Our courses let students explore. ‘Let me see what computer science or cyber security is about. I know that that's an up and coming career. There are going to be jobs in the future that I know nothing about.’”

“Proximity Learning gives them that safe space to take a course where all of the teachers care about their success, and we reach out.”

“One of my mottos is, I like to personalize, individualize, and differentiate education, success for every student, so I get to know a student so that they can tell me their hopes and dreams, as well as their fears and anxieties, so we can work through communication. We can reach students where they are, with that beginning knowledge for one of the highly technical future careers and educational pathways. It's just such a privilege, and that our schools all over the country have provided the opportunity for their students to take the courses that they would like to take.”

Advice For Future Online Teachers

Mrs. Windley suggests, “Listen to the voices of the Proximity Learning teachers. Look at the blog posts. Look at social media. Look at the stories of other teachers, as many as you possibly can, and I think that will make up your mind. Proximity pops up on Facebook, and I see a lot of our teachers and their stories, and there is that common denominator, that joyfulness.

“Everybody is very happy, and looking for opportunities to professionally develop and reach their students. So while some of the brick and mortar teachers were negatively impacted by the pandemic, I heard so many teachers say, ‘Oh, I don't have the skills. I don't know anything about teaching online,’ and that was sort of my rallying call. I love technology, and our students need kind and caring teachers who are competent professionals who are willing to learn right alongside them. You don't have to know everything, just be willing to learn. Just take one technology tool at a time and make it awesome. Proximity Learning teachers are trailblazers.”

Find out more about online teaching opportunities here.

Chelsea Penney earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Writing from University of Colorado Denver and her Masters of Science in Marketing from Texas A&M University Commerce. She loves living in Austin, TX and working on the frontline of the many marketing initiatives for Proximity Learning.

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