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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

If you can’t hire a physics teacher, is virtual OK?

A chemistry teacher live-streams into a conventional classroom. Photo: Elevate K-12

Virtual learning didn’t work well during the pandemic. Without in-person connections, many students lose focus and learn less.

But the “future of K-12 education” may include virtual teachers live-streaming into classrooms, writes Alyson Klein in Education Week.

Proximity Learning and Elevate K12, rapidly growing for-profit companies, are providing virtual teachers in hard-to-fill subjects such as physics, chemistry, math, computer science and foreign languages.

The ideal is “an awesome teacher in the face-to-face classroom,” says Elevate K-12 CEO Shaily Baranwal.

But what if that’s not possible? In some schools, the choice is between a teacher who doesn’t know much about physics or canceling physics.

“Almost half of district leaders and principals labeled their staff shortages as ‘severe’ or ‘very severe’ in a fall 2021 survey by the EdWeek Research Center,” writes Klein.

Shortages in the hard sciences and math predate the pandemic — by decades.

College graduates considering future careers want the option to set their own hours and work from anywhere, Barnawal said. “Other professionals have gotten [flexibility] that teaching has not yet gotten,” she said. “If you go to the pain points of why they’re quitting, it’s flexibility.”

Virtual teachers earn a lot less than in-person teachers, writes Klein. “Elevate K12’s pay ranges from roughly $20 to $50 an hour, depending, in part, on the subject being taught,” while “Proximity currently offers $25 to $30 an hour for part-time teachers.”

But virtual teachers don’t have to do anything but teach.

School districts that hire a virtual teacher also pay an adult, usually an aide, to supervise students, writes Klein. “In schools working with Proximity, for example, that person who is physically in the classroom might manage the day-to-day of the classroom, contact parents when necessary, and help with grading.”

That adds to the district’s costs. But hiring and compensating a full-time teacher, including benefits and retirement, is very expensive.

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