Fetzer said she “jumped at the chance” to begin teaching online.

Through a combination of blended learning, individualized instruction, and enthusiasm, online biology teacher Leslie Fetzer’s dedication to helping her special-needs students develop core learning skills contributed to her new title as the 2012 National Online Teacher of the Year for K-12 education.

Fetzer, who teaches in the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) Occupational Course of Study (OCS) blended learning program, teaches special-needs students in grades 10-12. Students are paired with an exceptional children’s teacher in a classroom, as well as with a content specialist teacher online.

Fetzer said that teaching online lets her instantly individualize instruction for her students, and she is able to personalize lessons to appeal to each student’s own areas of interest or preferences. Access to different online tools and technologies is an added benefit.

“I can spend more time with each student individually and adapt to their likes or dislikes and strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “And they become very comfortable with us; sometimes they might be more comfortable saying things to their online teacher than they would to their classroom teacher, especially students who have communication barriers.”

Teaching biology and lab-based sciences might seem difficult online, but Fetzer said her students participate in a combination of virtual labs and “kitchen sink” labs for hands-on experience.

“There certainly are challenges, but it’s definitely not impossible,” she said. “I try to figure out what my students like so that I can adapt my instruction.”

Classroom and online teachers “chunk” the information that students receive, Fetzer said, meaning that they dole out instruction in manageable pieces that are easy for students to learn and review.