Three Spring Branch ISD schools plan this year to employ “virtual teachers,” who lecture live through a webcam to students with the aid of an in-class staff member. The teacher will be provided by Proximity Learning, an Austin-based company that operates like a temp agency for school districts.
Spring Branch ISD administrators said Proximity Learning’s employees will teach one section of physics in Memorial High School, two sections of Spanish in Northbrook Middle School, and eight sections of Spanish and one section of American Sign Language in Spring Woods High School.
“The colleges have not been putting out enough certified teachers, so this was one way for us to be able to find them,” said Karen Heeth, the district’s executive director of talent. “We like the quality of teachers we’re getting with this system, we like that it’s live, and we like that the teacher is interacting with the students through the video.”
“What we’ve kind of turned into is an HR backup plan,” said Evan Erdberg, president and CEO of Proximity Learning. “We’re that next option until districts can find and place a teacher in a classroom.”
With Proximity Learning, each student sits in front of their own webcam-enabled computer and watches the teacher give instruction. If a student has a question, he or she virtually raises a hand by punching a keyboard button, then receives instantaneous feedback. A district staff member sits in the classroom, monitoring students and assisting as needed. When class is over, the teacher reviews coursework, takes questions from parents and provides final grades.
Spring Branch ISD administrators also will use the arrangement as a training tool for aspiring teachers. The district will put associate teachers – employees with bachelor’s degrees who haven’t received their teaching certification, but plan to get certified – in classrooms with Proximity Learning educators.
“This gives that (associate) teacher some time to work with students, build some relationships, get to know the classroom before they take their test,” Heeth said.