"People see what they want to see and what people
want to see never has anything to do with the truth." Roberto Bolaño
Merriam-Webster defines perception as "the way you think about or understand someone or something." I am finding this to be very relevant in my life this summer as I prepare to embark on my second year as a teacher with ECOT, the largest online school in the state of Ohio. This isn't my first teaching gig. I have done it all from public to private to small scale charter and now e-school, but I have never seen perception play such a large role in the future of my school until now.
Someone thinks I am incompetent. Someone thinks my school is evil. Someone thinks what I do doesn't matter. Yes, I understand that is perception and what they think doesn't typically matter. But what if I say it actually does! There are other teachers out there angry because they believe my school takes away money from their schools. There are other teachers out there angry because they believe my school doesn't follow the letter of the law and do what the department of education requires of us. There are still even more teachers, professionals, that take time to bash my school and the work I do without ever having stepped foot through the doors or get to know the reality of online education.
I take great offense to all of that. Perception does matter. Being crucified in the light of public opinion day in and day out is exhausting. Knowing what the truth is but not having others see or understand that truth is beyond frustrating.
So, what exactly do I do as an online teacher?
I know that is staggering to some, but it is the truth. Yes, I teach the content required of me by the state of Ohio all wrapped up in a nice neat curriculum. Yes, I host live sessions for students to come and learn in a "face-to-face" platform. Yes, I also maintain an asynchronous classroom where students go complete independent work. Yes, I make what seems like a MILLION calls a week trying to reach out to ALL my students and encourage them to log in and work. Yes, I even make goofy videos to capture their attention and keep them coming back for more.
Pure and simple though, I teach students to love language and reading and sometimes writing.
I teach students the value of a good work ethic and how to celebrate successes and learn from the difficult challenges where they sometimes see failure.
I teach students to believe in themselves and trust their instincts.
I teach students to be the best individual human they can and know that there are going to be those who just cannot see through their own blinders.
So, why is it important to have an online environment for students?
One question I get a lot is why can't these students just go to "regular school." Some of them could. Some cannot, and this is why.
I met a girl at a doctor's office whose brother is a dirt bike racer and is planning to go professional by age 16. He cannot do that at a regular school. He already attends ECOT.
I have had students who were older than 18 but determined to graduate before the state of Ohio cuts off their high school attendance (this is age 21 in the state of Ohio). These kiddos don't feel comfortable attending high school with 13 year olds and up.
I met a gentleman who told me that his brother would have benefited from a school like ECOT "back in the day" because he spent 9 months of one school year in the hospital and couldn't attend regular school leaving him a full year behind.
I have had students who haven't left their houses in years because they have some sort of social anxiety disorder that makes attending a regular school impossible.
I have had students who have moved to the state and do not wish to enroll in a regular school for only a semester of credits needed to complete their high school.
I have had students who have been mercifully bullied and no longer feel safe in their home school.
I have had students who love the feeling of homeschooling and the flexibility an e-school provides.
I have students who have children of their own and attending a regular school is not feasible for their schedules.
I have students that everyone else has given up on (including their home school that has kicked them out for one reason or another), and they do not think they will ever graduate.
So, the local newspaper has something against my school. ODE has questions about attendance records. OEA depicts my school and those teachers who work there as evil and incompetent. This creates a false sense of perception and causes parents and students to hesitate before turning to us for their educational needs. I work for a fabulous school district -- one that I proudly defend.
Perception matters!! These kids are seeking a quality education that they just cannot get from a "regular school," and while I cannot speak for every teacher and know darn well that there are schools with crap teachers left and right, I know what I do for them, and I know what my friends and colleagues do for them: We provide a safe and meaningful environment.
MY KIDS are able to learn valuable life lessons and some English here and there!
MY KIDS have meaning!
MY KIDS know that I believe in them.
MY KIDS know they are loved and that they have value in this world.
MY KIDS know what ECOT gives them day in and day out.
My perception is quite simple. I have been blessed with the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students who might otherwise be lost in the system. I find hope in knowing there are students who need me and my guidance when the new school year begins. We will always be misunderstood. We will always have an upward battle on our hands. But we are ECOT; and we will thrive and survive through it all because WE know the value of a strong education and providing it to the best of our ability for those students we serve!