This month’s Proximity Learning webinar features host Dr. April Willis; Senior Manager of HR, John Rollack; Talent Acquisition Specialist, Samantha White; and two virtual teachers, April Vazquez and Haley Slivka. The panel discusses how to transition to a remote teaching job. Read more to get all the answers on what it is like to teach for Proximity Learning.
From Teachers’ Perspective
Why did you decide to transition to virtual teaching?
Haley Slivka: I moved to Ohio from Oklahoma in 2019 mid-school-year. There weren’t open teaching positions at that time in my area, so I was just subbing. I got a message on Linkedin from our CEO, Evan Erdberg, and he told me I teach in a high-need subject area. I went through the interview process really fast and started in October 2019. Soon after, the pandemic started, and this was really the perfect place for me. I’ve stuck with it ever since.
April Vazquez: I got my first experience teaching virtually when the pandemic struck. After 2020, I was back in the classroom and I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a virtual teacher. I really appreciated working with the technology. I’m a creative person, so technology gave me that outlet for creative expression. I just fell in love with it. I knew that I wanted to be a virtual teacher, and I could not go back to brick and mortar. Technology is my thing, so being a virtual teacher is the way I decided to go.
What is your advice to educators who are thinking about teaching virtually?
April Vazquez: I would tell them just to go for it! You’re probably already thinking about it for a few good reasons. I wouldn’t let fear stand in your way. One of the wonderful things that I’ve experienced with Proximity Learning is the incredible support system. You have so many people at your fingertips waiting to help you every single day. If you are afraid of the technology, that is not a problem because we have some of the top people who know a lot about technology who will be so happy to help you. I would just say go for it. Today’s your day and don’t let fear stand in your way.
Haley Slivka: My best advice would be to start building a network of people that are in virtual education because there are so many resources out there. Like April said, we have some of the most amazing experts who work with us that really know technology. I would say start reaching out, talking to people and learning as much as you can.
What are some of the advantages of teaching virtually with Proximity Learning?
Haley Slivka: I really enjoy the flexibility of working with Proximity Learning because I just thought it was so cool to choose my own classes, choose my schedule and teach what I want to teach. There are opportunities for upward mobility too, which isn’t something you really get in a traditional school. I’ve been able to do additional positions for Proximity like department chair and mentor other teachers.
April Vazquez: My number one thing was the flexibility of creating my own schedule. I have three little ones here at home, so it really helps for me to create a schedule that works for me. Also, a lot of times teachers really feel like their autonomy as a professional is not respected. But at Proximity Learning, I really feel so much support. There’s not a lot of micromanaging, which I appreciate because we are all professionals.
“I’m a lot less stressed out.”
I feel the positivity within the company is just something that I appreciate and I’m thankful for every single day. Not to mention, I save on gas.
What are the differences between teaching virtually versus teaching in brick and mortar?
April Vazquez: There are a lot of similarities, but there are some differences. One of the differences is professional development. I feel like at Proximity Learning there’s professional development every day in some aspect, especially when it comes to technology. When I was at brick and mortar, there was a schedule and everyone had to get together. At Proximity, it’s a lot more flexible so I really appreciate that. As much as I want to say being in-person was more supportive, for me the opposite is true.
“Working with Proximity, I receive a lot more support in a positive way from the employees here.”
Haley Slivka: For me, the most striking differences are related to communication. The way that you communicate with the school, with administration, with kids is just so different from brick and mortar. There’s very little contact with parents and families. It’s more like you have an intermediary with the TA at the school, which is both a pro and con depending on how you look at it. We all know that sometimes those parent contacts can be a lot to deal with. It’s kind of nice having someone doing that aspect for you, but it’s also very different to not have parent phone numbers ready to go anytime you need to reach out. There are other ways, so you can always have a ClassDojo page or use those online platforms to communicate with parents.
From Human Resource Perspectives
How flexible is scheduling for classes?
John Rollack: Scheduling is really simple with us. You can pick and choose the courses you want. If you’re a Math teacher and you really enjoy teaching Geometry, you can teach Geometry all day. If you want to teach all day, you can teach from 7am-4pm. If you’re only available from 7-10am, you can teach from 7-10am. You can have that work-life balance, enjoy working with your students but also enjoy spending time with your family. We meet with you one-on-one, pick your schedule, sign you up and then get you ready to start teaching.
Does Proximity Learning offer professional development (PD)?
John Rollack: We have monthly PD to help you become a better virtual teacher. It’s not always something that a district is mandating, it’s just something that will make you a better virtual teacher.
Samantha White: We also have office hours through our learning and development team. That’s where that great technology support comes in. We have a couple of individuals who are experts in canvas, mobymax and nearpod, which are some of the pieces of technology we use. They offer office hours just to add that additional support. You can pop in and ask questions if you’re having a problem with something or just have a couple of questions you haven’t been able to figure out, they can answer those too.
John Rollack: Proximity Learning teachers attend our PD, not the districts. They may attend PLCs at the district if they want, but they always attend our PD sessions. We try to have them after the school day ends, typical to brick and mortar schools. You’re also able to meet with your vice principal at a different time, and they can walk through the PD sessions with you to make sure you have the support that you need.
What are the benefits available to Proximity Learning teachers?
Samantha White: We do offer medical, vision and dental for our teachers. We also offer a 401k plan after a year.
John Rollack: Teachers can earn five days of PTO that you can use throughout the year, just like in a brick and mortar school. They are five whole days so you can pick and choose when you need to use those. If you need a mental health day, you can schedule it, take a day of PTO to recharge and get ready to go back and teach.
Do teachers use the school district’s curriculum?
John Rollack: No, teachers do not have to develop their own curriculum, but they do need to support our curriculum. What that means is they still have to lesson plan. They still have to be a teacher, but they don’t have to build curriculum, lesson plan and teach. We feel like that’s way too much to do.
What does Proximity do to monitor lesson plans?
John Rollack: Teachers submit lesson plans on Thursday of every week. Their vice principal will review those lessons. If they’re going to do something outside the curriculum to support their classes, the VP will approve it. If they want to support women in education this month and do something in their classroom, they will submit it to their VP for approval and then they can teach those lessons.
If a teacher is certified in Massachusetts, does that mean they can only teach in Massachusetts?
Samantha White: We prefer teachers to have a standard or professional license. This means that, generally speaking, they can get reciprocity in any of the states we work in. If it’s a preliminary or initial license, they are limited to only teaching in that state that they are licensed in or in classes that don’t require reciprocity.
Do you miss being in front of a class of children?
April Vazquez: I’m always in front of a class of children! I really am! We’re human beings, so we want to be in close proximity to other human beings face to face. But every single day I feel very close to my students. We do have a wonderful rapport, wonderful connection, we are able to bond as though we were face to face. I miss it sometimes, but I’m very happy with things the way they are now.
What type of behaviors need to be managed compared to teaching in the school building?
Haley Slivka: I find behavior and classroom management a lot easier in the virtual realm. There’s still a lot you need to do and a lot that is in other ways more challenging in the virtual classroom. You can’t take a kid out in the hallway. But you find other ways. If you have a good TA in the school, they collaborate with you and help you out. I do find it better and easier in a lot of ways.
April Vazquez: We have our facilitators in the classroom monitoring behavior. Our job is to make learning as engaging as possible, so they want to be involved in the lesson, they want to listen, they are already invested.
How many students do you teach at one time?
Haley Slivka: It really varies based on the classes and school district. I’ve had classes that are only six or seven and really small up to classes that are 30.
What type of content resources can be used by teachers?
April Vazquez: The more the merrier. Whatever technological resources you want to bring into your academic classroom that you feel will enhance instruction, you can use. Whiteboard.chat is something that’s pretty up and coming. If you are at a loss and don’t know where to turn, that professional development offered pretty much every single day can definitely support you with that.
What are the expected hours for full-time and part-time?
Samantha White: We require teachers to have at least three hours of availability each day Monday-Friday, so the requirement is that they’re teaching at least two to three classes. Technically, right now because our contracts are 10 months, all of our positions are considered part-time. If you wanted to do full days and teach six to seven hours a day, that’s definitely a possibility.
John Rollack: We are also talking about full-time positions for the 2022-23 school year. That is something that we’re talking about because we hear that our teachers want full-time roles. Whether you’re teaching two classes a day or six classes a day, you still get benefits.
What is the success rate of this model and how are schools accepting this form of education?
John Rollack: We did a study with Chicago University. Our kids are performing at or above brick and mortar rates. The reason they’re doing that is because we’re actually providing instruction in a manner that they love. They love screens. Usually, people in my age group don’t want kids to have screens, but kids love screens. They’re engaged at a higher level, they enjoy it. They actually go and apply those things outside the classroom, so they perform really well.
Do teachers work in one district or multiple districts?
Samantha White: It could be both. It would depend on how you schedule your classes. You could schedule all of your classes within the same district. Or it’s very possible that you could end up scheduling within two or three different districts.
What does job security look like?
John Rollack: It looks really good. We grew 300% this year. We’ve blown up this year and hired about 800 teachers. Last year, we only hired about 350 teachers, so job security looks really good. We’re already receiving quotes for next year and building schedules for next year, so if you’re interested, please apply.
How is grading handled?
April Vazquez: However you prefer to handle it. With the online tools you have access to, you can assign what you want to assign and grade it how you want to grade it. You have options for a lot of self-graded assignments, which is really great. I sometimes assign students certain activities and all they have to do is hit a button and everything is graded right there on the spot. It just depends on your preference with grading.
Haley Slivka: We do see to the district as far as school grading policies. If the district has a grading policy, that’s what you use. But as April was saying, there are a lot of quick, easy ways to do grading, even built into canvas, which is the main platform we use for our classes. You can do graded quizzes and things like that that are graded automatically. It’s more efficient.
In your opinion, what is the hardest part of this job?
Haley Slivka: I think it just boils down to those differences we talked about as far as transitioning from brick and mortar. If you’ve been teaching in brick and mortar for many years, it’s just a learning curve. I think that’s the hardest part. You have to be creative and problem solve. Every school you work with is a little bit different, so the obstacles you face are a little bit different every time you teach with a different school.
Do Proximity Learning teachers get contracts similar to teachers in districts?
John Rollack: Yes, you receive a 10-month contract. You can resign if you need to. They’re not binding where it means you have to teach for the entire year or you lose your license. We do not do that to our teachers. But you will receive a 10-month contract, and you are able to renew that contract at the end of every year if you choose to do so.
Are retired teachers eligible to teach with Proximity Learning?
Samantha White: As long as you still hold a standard professional certification, you are more than welcome to teach with us.
Does Proximity help teachers finance additional licensure areas or state certifications?
John Rollack: We will. If we asked you to get reciprocity, let's say you have a license in Massachusetts but you’re going to teach in Georgia, we will get you licensed in Georgia, we will pay for it, and help you with the process.
Will a probationary teaching license be able to be used?
Samantha White: We could potentially hire you, but you would be confined to just that state or to districts that don’t require reciprocity.
How do we know exactly what courses you offer?
John Rollack: Apply and we will get you all set up for classes. Once you’re hired, you get access to PLI Connect, and you can see every available class that we have. You can pre-enroll yourself if you’re interested in a new course.
Where do we apply for positions?