Online Teacher of the Year finalists share passion for technology-driven instruction: Jen Currin

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This is the second of three interviews with the National Online Teacher of the Year Award finalists. First up was Renee Citlau.

For the fourth year, SAS is a sponsor of the award, which recognizes an outstanding online teacher for exceptional quality in online K-12 education. Through education initiatives and innovative resources such as SAS Curriculum Pathways and SAS Mobile Education apps, SAS is a strong supporter of online and digital learning.

Jen Currin, 2013 National Online Teacher of the Year Finalist

The NOTY Award is organized by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). This year’s judging committee evaluated 49 nominations of online educators in public schools and state virtual schools from 19 states to make the selections. Three finalists were announced, and the 2013 National Online Teacher of the Year will be named March 7.

I asked the finalists about their experience teaching with technology and what it means to be a finalist.  I would like to share their responses, though I had to pare them down. Did I mention they’re passionate?

Today’s finalist is Jen Currin, an online English teacher at North Carolina Virtual Public School. I’m proud to say that Ms. Currin and NCVPS use SAS Curriculum Pathways in many courses in traditional and Credit Recovery programs. They also partnered with SAS on an Algebra 1 course.  “SAS Curriculum Pathways offers a challenge to students while reinforcing their learning,” says Currin.

How does technology impact your ability to teach?
The most important aspect of teaching and learning are the connections that teachers and students make to each other and to the material.  Technology is helping to build and sustain these connections in my online classroom with students and in my own professional learning network.     Technology has allowed me to bring curriculum to life for my students. As we dive in to a lesson, my students will see it, hear it, read it, and experience it.  Technology allows me to build curriculum that offers students choice and variety.  As my students are learning, I am able to personalize the course for each student, so that each student receives an authentic learning experience.

It is because of technology that I can reach out to my students by phone, text, instant message, live classrooms and video.  Through these conversations I build relationships with my students.  I get to know their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes.  Through these interactions, I build trust with my students.  They know that I want them to succeed and that I believe they can. They trust that I will be there to help them every step of the way.

Technology also offers me the ability to construct an active professional learning network.  Professional learning opportunities have found their way to social media sites, like Twitter and Pinterest.  I can connect and share best practices with educators from around the world.  I am able to not only read updates from innovators in education and policy, but I can be a part of that discussion.  It is through this professional learning network that I grow as an educator and leader.

What does it mean for you to be nominated for the NOTY award?
I have never been more proud and honored to be a part of something than I am to be an online teacher.  When I tell people that I teach online, I can always tell if they don’t understand how online learning works.  They think that I must always be online, broadcasting lessons or that I just email students and grade papers.  I can’t stop the smile that spreads across my face at every opportunity to share the powerful learning that takes place in my online classes.

People usually assume that I must not really know my online students because we never meet in person, but I enthusiastically explain how this is just not the case.  I like to share how often I talk with my students and their families via phone, email or text. Even though I may never meet my students or their families face-to-face, I feel like I meet them every day.  I am required to have “office hours” daily, but my students know that they can contact me at any time, and they do.  Usually by the middle of a semester, the students and their parents call me more than I call them. This shows me how invested they have become in their own learning and the learning experience of their child.  I never had this type of relationship with my students and their families in the face-to-face classroom.

I enjoy talking about those students who had previously not found success in the face-to-face classroom but flourish in my online class.  The education mantra for years was, “No Child Left Behind,” but so many children have been left behind for various reasons.  Online learning has given many of these students a second chance.  For instance, the Credit Recovery program is for students who have previously failed a course at least once in face-to-face school.  They come to me jaded, discouraged, and unsure of their own potential.  I love these students and their families.  They need my online class.  They need that second chance. They need a personalized learning experience and to have the opportunity to see their past mistakes and failures as an opportunity for growth. As an online teacher, I am able to give these students and their families the one-on-one attention and help that they need.

I love to share my experiences in our Blended Learning program for students in the Occupational Course of Study.  These “left behind” students had been studying a life skills curriculum.  When their curriculum was changed to match that of their peers in general education, some people said that there was just no way they could adjust.  When we piloted our Blended Learning program, there were many educational stakeholders and classroom teachers who thought that online learning would not work for this group of students.  However, our Blended Learning program with its dedicated online teachers, gifted exceptional children classroom teachers, and enthusiastic students prove them wrong every day.  Our students are finding success that people never imagined would be possible.

I appreciate every opportunity to speak with others about the powerful learning that takes place in online courses.  I am truly honored to have been nominated for the National Online Teacher of the Year award. It offers a wonderful opportunity to serve the field of online learning and share my experiences with the world. 

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About Author

Lee Ellen Harmer

Outreach and Collaborations Manager

Lee Ellen Harmer supports the usage and adoption of SAS’s education products and initiatives. In addition to her primary work in the US, she assists SAS country offices with global implementations and outreach efforts. She also facilitates discussions with partners, easing access to SAS’s education products for educators in the US and around the world. Lee Ellen originally joined SAS in 2008 to sell Curriculum Pathways and has also managed sales of traditional SAS software for teaching and research in higher education. Much of her career has been in sales and marketing to the Education industry, including experience in enterprise software sales to the industry for Red Hat (a vendor of Linux and open source technology). Lee Ellen has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business with a marketing concentration from Wake Forest University (Winston Salem, NC).

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