MACON, Ga. – Officials in Bibb County schools are turning to virtual teachers to help keep certified educators in front of students when they can’t find a suitable full-time teacher.
Board member voted Tuesday to contract with Proximity Learning Inc. to hire certified teachers who will be live-streamed into classrooms with substitutes as a means of filling teaching vacancies and dealing with long-term absences, Macon.com reports.
“We had some vacancies last year that we unfortunately couldn’t fill and went most of the year with a substitute teacher,” Paige Busbee, assistant superintendent of human resources, told the news site.
“We see this as a way to help that substitute until we could get a certified teacher in there,” she said. “The goal would not be to keep them all year.”
The new pilot program will consist of virtual certified teachers working with students through live-streaming online three days a week. A substitute will handle classroom management, and the online educator would be available to students through electronic communications, as well, WMAZ reports.
“They get the substitute in the classroom to supervise and help lay their hands on students, encourage them and support them, but then you’ve got the certified teacher online to offer the instruction,” Busbee told the news site.
“She interacts with the students, the students raise their hand, the teacher can call on the students” during the virtual learning sessions, she said. “The students talk and interact with the teacher, they can type in questions, they can verbally ask questions, and she can respond. The teacher will provide grades.”
The board approved contract calls for three virtual teachers in total, with two working in middle schools and one for elementary schools. The total labor costs for the substitute and virtual teacher is about $60,000 a year, roughly $5,000 less than the average teacher salary in the district, Macon.com reports.
Beyond filling in for teaching vacancies, or long term leave, Busbee believes the technology could have other advantages down the road, such as combining students from different schools who want to take the same class.
“You can combine those classes through technology,” she said.
District officials told Macon.com they currently have about a dozen teaching vacancies still open as the start of school closes in.
The teacher shortage is a problem faced by school districts across the country, and it’s a situation that’s convinced many districts to take extreme measures to put teachers in front of students.
School districts in California and other states, for example, are using special visa programs to recruit educators from Mexico, the Philippines, and Europe. Other districts, meanwhile, are utilizing alternative teacher licensing programs to hire all types of college graduates from anywhere they can find them, including Starbucks, The Cheesecake Factory, and local dog parks, EAGnews reports.