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Internships help prepare future online teachers

As virtual schooling continues to surge in popularity, there is a growing need for new K-12 teachers who understand how to teach in an online environment successfully. To help meet this need, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is teaming up with area colleges to pair teachers-in-training with its online instructors in a first-of-its-kind internship program.

Six University of Central Florida (UCF) education majors are in the middle of a seven-week internship where they are working hand-in-hand with FLVS teachers. Interns were chosen because they expressed an interest in teaching online.

UCF student Katelyn Richardson, who is majoring in English language arts education, was chosen to participate in the internship program, but has not yet begun the virtual portion of the program at FLVS. She will begin her virtual internship in the second week of March.

“Being able to have this chance to intern with the Florida Virtual School opens a world of possibilities for the University of Central Florida, and me, personally,” she said. “It is truly encouraging to know that there is an organization that truly believes, and lives out, the philosophy of student-centered education. The Florida Virtual School not only puts forth these ideals, but supports and enables the teachers to give 100 percent of themselves to the students and their education.”

FLVS, founded in 1997, provides virtual K-12 education solutions to students throughout the country, offering more than 80 courses for middle and high school students.

After spending seven weeks at FLVS, interns will spend seven weeks in traditional classrooms in central Florida, said Brian Marchman, instructional leader with FLVS.

“I think that it’s the first of its kind of … internship to prepare students to teach not only online, but in the traditional classroom as well,” he said.

The program is being piloted with UCF as well as at the University of Florida in Gainesville, but Marchman said FLVS hopes to be able to work with all 10 of Florida’s state colleges and universities eventually. Officials currently have established at least some communication with five.

Marchman said the internship was welcomed immediately at UCF.

“We’re a forward-thinking institution here,” said Michael Hynes, the chair of the Teaching and Learning Principles department at UCF, in a press release. “We want to be thinking ahead of where the education industry is now. We have great confidence this pilot is going to work. It will give our students an edge, because they will not only know how to teach a traditional class, they will also know how to do it virtually.”

World geography instructor Julia Maccarone, who has taught for 15 years, six of them with the virtual school, said she decided to leave bricks-and-mortar instruction for FLVS so she could work in an environment that was centered around students.

“The Florida Virtual School is all about students,” she said. “It’s efficient and more about what the student learned, and less about how long a student sat and was bombarded with information. It’s just a better way for kids to learn.”

Maccarone, who is mentoring a UCF intern, said much of what she is sharing with her intern is similar to what she would have shared in a traditional school, but some things need to be highlighted.

Online teachers “need to develop a relationship with their students, so they know their strengths and weaknesses,” she said, adding that some students have extenuating circumstances that can make it harder for them to complete certain assignments.

Though Richardson has not begun her virtual internship, she said the orientation she attended at FLVS already has allowed her to see the benefits of teaching online.

“The greatest asset is the availability to work individually with each student. No longer are you forced to continue a lesson while students straggle behind, you can work one-on-one with the student. This marks an important difference between the two methods of education,” she said. “Online education is based on motivation and individual attention, whereas much of the focus in a brick-and-mortar institution is forced to be on classroom management and teaching a large group of students.”

After the first few weeks, Maccarone said her intern is preparing to interact directly with the students through three-way monthly phone calls.

“It’s a really interesting program,” she said. “The interns who [are participating] in it are thrilled.”

Richardson said she can see herself pursuing online teaching once she graduates from UCF.

“While talking with some of the current teachers at the Florida Virtual School, I asked if they missed the interaction of seeing their students. They responded that they felt as though they knew them just as well, if not more than if they were in a brick-and-mortar school,” she said. “The opportunity for individual attention, somewhat flexible hours, and an organization that does anything for you to ensure you are able to do your best definitely appeals to me.”

Marchman said the interns each have a primary course, but they have exposure to multiple courses in an effort to expose students to different FLVS teachers with different teaching styles.

UCF interns are earning course credit as well as credit toward state certification, and FLVS supervising teachers are earning college credit toward advanced degrees through state colleges.


Florida Virtual School

University of Central Florida

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