When you think of the popular Friday Night Lights television series many sights and sounds spring to mind such as coach Eric Taylor telling his Dillon High School football team in the locker room "clear eyes, full heart, can't lose."
Friday Night Lights was set in a fictional West Texas town that seemed stuck in the technological past with locals still listening to the big game on transistor radios, but the series was based on a non-fiction book that chronicled the real Permian High School in oil-rich Odessa, where the local Ector County Independent School District is currently looking at the prospects of battling an extreme teacher shortage by hiring online teachers.
The Reality In Texas
You may find it hard to imagine the characters of Friday Night Lights in a high school classroom with a virtual teacher, but that is the reality in an area with almost 250 teaching vacancies this school year and overcrowding so bad that a photo of Permian students sitting on buckets in a classroom without enough desks went viral.
“We’re in a situation where we have been unable to find anyone to teach that is qualified to do so. Would I prefer to have an in-person teacher? Certainly, but we don’t have people like that available.” said Ector County interim superintendent, Jim Nelson, in an interview with the Texas Tribune.
Enter Austin-based Proximity Learning, which has made a pitch to Ector County to breach the teacher shortage gap with its online educators.
Proximity Learning CEO Evan Erdberg told the Tribune: “(Our) instruction model simulates the experience of traditional brick-and-mortar classroom setting. The classroom is equipped with tools, such as a microphone, webcam and chat, so students can engage and interact with teachers throughout instruction.”
Proximity is working with about 40 Texas school districts.
For current teachers and those in teacher certification programs, the trend towards virtual teaching opens up their career frontier.
In West Texas, school districts are facing teacher shortages as enrollment has climbed thanks to a recent oil boom, which not only brought in more students, increasing the demand for teachers, but also raised the housing costs in the area, with rents skyrocketing 40 percent. Bottom line is it is tough for teachers to stay or move to the region.
Nearby Midland is facing the same shortages with the local school district using remote teachers in 24 classrooms this year including physics, chemistry, history and geometry courses.
West Texas, however, is not alone as districts all across the Lone Star State are in need of teachers. The Wall Street Journal recently profiled a classroom in Dallas suburb of Duncanville, where the students were being taught by an online teacher who was 800 miles away in Georgia.
The teacher shortage trend is bigger than Texas with nationwide the number of college students enrolled as education majors falling from 22% in 1975 to below 10% in 2015, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Proximity Learning is working with 150 school districts across 20 states.
It is hard to put an exact number on the total online teaching jobs available, but the National Center Education Statistics estimates that there are 3.6 million full-time-equivalent elementary and secondary school teacher in the United States in 2016. If online teaching meets just a tiny fraction of those needs, between 0.5 and 1 percent of all classrooms, that still calls for between 18,000 and 36,000 online teachers.
And, that number will continue to grow.
How Do You Find Them?
If becoming an online teacher sounds like a great gig, how do you find the jobs?
Some of the sources for finding in-classroom teaching jobs, such as indeed.com, will serve you for online jobs as well. Indeed, for example, currently has five pages of listings under the search of "virtual teacher" in "Texas".
Micah is the Director of Curriculum & Technology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in British Literature, from the University of North Texas and a Master of Arts in Teaching, from Louisiana College. In his previous career, Micah served for 14 years as a banker and bank manager. For the majority of this period, Micah managed the Downtown Fort Worth location of Frost Bank.
In 2005, Micah finally surrendered to his true calling to be an educator. After a brief, but fulfilling term teaching high school English at Flower Mound High School in Lewisville ISD, Micah went to work for the family business, training teachers.
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