Virtual Teachers: A Solution To Teacher Shortages, Or Another Problem?

Virtual teachers may be a quick fix solution to fill teacher vacancies, but is is effective in the classroom?

By Erika Hanson | Published

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virtual teacher

All year long, reports of a mass exodus of teachers in public education have been looming, and those fears are quickly becoming a reality as school officials look to the next school year. Vacancies are being reported at alarming rates, as districts scramble to come up with innovative ways to attract and retain educators. One area that is growing in popularity is companies that offer virtual teachers in classrooms, but is it a solution, or something creating a much bigger problem in the declining state of America’s education system?

EdWeek reports that companies offering virtual teachers as public school fill-ins are gaining traction around the country. This means that in a growing fashion, more students are sitting in classrooms without a face-to-face educator. Instead, they are being instructed by someone on a TV screen, who may not even be in the same time zone as them.

Two major companies that offer these virtual teachers for rent are Proximity and Elevate. Both laud themselves as the solution to the teacher shortage crisis. But that’s not all — as they also tout their offerings as a sort of glimpse into the future of education.

It is true that many education experts believe that virtual learning is here to stay. This type of schooling was growing in favor even before the pandemic, but its appeal was exacerbated more at the onset of the pandemic. Some districts, like New York City, are even opening full-time virtual schools. But still, a plethora of specialists and researchers say that widespread virtual learning is detrimental to academic achievement. Because of this, many are skeptical in regards to the idea of virtual teachers in classrooms.

Samuel Abrams, the director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University is strictly against these virtual teacher companies. Calling them a “symptom” of a failing school system, he feels that it is another way for districts to deflect the real problem, which is compensation and working conditions for teachers. Also backing up claims that virtual learning largely displaces impoverished and minority students, it is unclear how teachers that may live states away can have an impact on the lives of these children. After all, how can they address unruly students or those who may be slacking off in class?

Still, there is no denying that during a time of great need, virtual teachers can act as a quick fix. The issue is so large in some areas, that schools have had to call in the national guard just to keep classes running. If there are no teachers then there are no classes. In some cases, this might be the only solution.

virtual teacher

Likewise, companies like Proximity and Elevate are growing in popularity among educators, for a variety of reasons. For one, the pay is competitive. Also, virtual teachers tend to have fewer duties than in-person educators. As more and more teachers cite burnout as a major reason for leaving the field, these type of positions means less faculty meetings, duties like lunch and bus observation, and so on. 

It may not be an ideal solution, but it is certainly growing in use. Virtual teacher programs like Proximity and Elevate will continue to grow so long as the teacher crisis continues on. It may not be the best solution, but at least for now, it is keeping classrooms operating.