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Kelly Schaeffer: Now, I'm working more efficiently, using my time to truly support students' academic needs.

Many of us in the teaching profession have faced difficult challenges in recent years and have decided to change the direction of our careers.

While every teacher has their own story, I decided to switch school environments to try a new teaching experience. I'm now working at a statewide online public school called Willamette Connections Academy and loving it.

It's been awesome, working with my colleagues, teaching students in my virtual classroom, and getting to know my students and their families, all while working from home.

Though I grew up in Milwaukie, after college I taught in the brick-and-mortar public school system for 17 years, mostly in Newberg. A few years ago, I started substitute teaching at several schools in the metro area. Our family also returned to Milwaukie to be closer to relatives, raise our now elementary school-age kids, and coach sports in my hometown. Kelly Schaeffer

I enjoy working at Willamette Connections Academy because I can maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle that I need for me, my family, my students and my community, which is essential to navigate through this hectic world these days.

There are many reasons why I made the switch from traditional public school to a full-time virtual public charter school, but the main one is the flexibility it offers me personally and professionally. I can maintain a healthy personal life while also being good at what I do: teaching reading and writing to high school students.

Teaching in the brick-and-mortar schools was a wonderful experience. However, it took everything I had — all my energy, focus and time — and by day's end, there was very little left for myself, my family and even my students.

Now, I'm working more efficiently, which means I am using my time to truly support students' academic needs. I don't miss driving in traffic or helping maintain order in the classroom, hallways and on campus in general. I no longer use countless classroom-management skills that take up too much time and energy, at the expense of the students' educational development.

In the virtual environment, I'm able to meet with students and families on a more one-on-one basis. This is what attracted me to this type of teaching experience. I'm already getting to know my students and their families more because I talk with them regularly.

Working with this virtual platform also allows me to enhance one of the foundations of good teaching, meeting students where they're at academically. Instead of bringing the students to the lesson, I'm now bringing the lesson to the students and I can personalize assignments for each student's learning needs.

I love the daily exchanges with students through interactive online classroom sessions and small group sessions. We also communicate by phone, email and text.

Another reason I joined a full-time online school is the safe learning environment it provides to families. When children are in a place where they feel comfortable, they'll feel capable and ready to learn and face challenges, instead of feeling anxious because they're sharing classes with a bully. Other students thrive because they have health issues, which would make attending school in person a worrying experience. By contrast, in this space students often feel the freedom to express themselves without embarrassment, or worrying about being made fun of later by classmates.

I enjoy working with students when they're engaged in learning. Their confidence grows and they are able to achieve more than they thought possible.

I've seen introverted students really blossom and produce high-quality work, rich with artistic expression, all from the comfort of their home, while building connections with teachers and peers online.

I love being a part of this journey, watching each student learn at their own pace — more advanced learners can move ahead when they're ready, while those who struggle can spend more time on a subject. The flexibility of online school also works well for students who participate in extracurricular activities during regular classroom hours.

Online teaching has benefited my personal and professional life in so many ways. Personally, working for Willamette Connections Academy allows me to be more available for my sons' academics and athletics. I'm more present with my family overall, so I can spend my time doing other things I enjoy outside of the virtual classroom, like sports, camping, gardening and reading.

Professionally, I feel like I'm teaching the way I've always hoped to since my career started by helping every student succeed and having the tools to make that happen.

Kelly Schaeffer teaches ninth and 11th-grade language arts at Willamette Connections Academy, a statewide full-time online public charter school.


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