Virtual Education

When I tell people I teach music at a virtual school, they often have a hard time wrapping their heads around how it all works. My school has no physical school building. All of the teachers, students, and staff go to school via computer. Yes, I get to teach from home and yes, I get to wear comfy pants but the differences between virtual and brick and mortar teaching aren’t as numerous as people think.

The virtual school I teach at has over 2,000 students in grades K-12 spread out all over the state. The only requirement for students to enroll in our school is that they are a resident of the state. There is a cap on the number of students in each grade level and any open spots are filled via a lottery system.

Students come to our school for all different reasons. Some of them choose virtual school because they experienced bullying in their brick and mortar schools, have mental or physical illness that requires frequent appointments, or feel more comfortable in a less stimulating environment. Other students travel frequently, are involved in sports or performing arts at a high level, or simply want a change in the way they experience their education. 

My school offers classes in everything required for graduation: core subjects, health/PE, foreign language, art, CTE, honors/AP, dual enrollment, and of course, music. As for my specific teaching duties, I currently teach a high school music appreciation course and general music to the entire 8th grade. I also direct the after school virtual band/orchestra and virtual choir.

Life at a Virtual School

I begin each day teaching music appreciation to high school students. First period starts at 8:15. Instead of students trickling into a physical classroom, they log in and meet me in my virtual classroom. Just as you might imagine in a brick and mortar setting, my high schoolers are generally a little sleepy during their first class of the day. 

In the virtual classrooms at my school, students can interact with the content, the teacher, and their fellow classmates, just like a brick and mortar classroom. Students can raise their hands, write on the virtual white board, respond to polls, talk and answer questions using their mic or by typing in chat, work individually or in groups in separate virtual rooms, and even express emotions like “LOL” and “confused.” After live class, students often have reading and homework assigned in their online learning platform.

A glimpse into what my virtual classroom looks like at the beginning of music appreciation class.

As a virtual teacher, I am part of a PLC with the electives team, attend weekly staff meetings, and serve as the general education teacher for IEP meetings. I don’t have lunch or carpool duty but I do have to help with a catch up period that students can be assigned to help them catch up on missing work.

Students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of school activities. We have face-to-face outings every few weeks that happen in different regions of the state. Our school has after school tutoring, National Honor Society, and extra curriculars, including the virtual band/orchestra and virtual choir that I direct. 

We have school wide assemblies, awards and scholarships, and spirit week. Each semester we have a Virtual Art and Talent Show and every spring there’s an in person high school prom and a middle school dance. The year always wraps up with an in person graduation celebrating our senior class.

Life in virtual school can feel different at times but our school does make an effort to create a typical school experience for our students.

Common Misconceptions

Since virtual education is relatively new, there are still misconceptions people have about virtual schools.

Virtual school is not the same as home school. Students in my school are required to be in live classes at set times and all of those classes are taught by certified teachers. Attendance in classes and time spent in the online learning platform are tracked for each student. A student can become truant if they aren’t attending. Our students also participate in the required state testing. They attend testing in person in local regional centers across the state.

Even though I do get to teach from home, that does not mean my job is any easier or more flexible than a brick and mortar setting. While I don’t have a commute, can wear comfy pants, and eat lunch from my own kitchen, the flexibility largely stops there. My virtual teaching position is a full time job with specific contracted hours, which leaves me no time to do laundry or other household chores during the day. Many of the teachers at my school with younger kids still take them to daycare. If you are hired for a full time virtual teaching position, it truly does require you to work full time hours.

I have heard people remark that virtual schools are not “real schools” and virtual teaching is not “real teaching.” Technology has changed learning in many ways and people can be afraid of what they don’t understand. I believe a school is not defined by four physical walls. Watching students thrive and succeed in the virtual environment only further solidifies that belief.

Getting Started in Virtual Music Education

If you’re interested in teaching music virtually, the best place to start is a quick Google search of “Virtual Schools (your state).” Virtual schools are not consistent across states yet. Some virtual schools are state wide while others have blended learning opportunities in specific districts. Just like brick and mortar schools, some virtual schools are public, some are charter, and there are even a few private virtual school opportunities. 

Many virtual schools require a specific state teaching license so you’ll want to stay within the states you are licensed. Even though positions are virtual, some may require some travel(I travel every few months for standardized testing and face-to-face PD). When you’re applying, make sure you ask if there will be any travel involved.

If you’ve got questions about virtual music education, comment below or send me a DM on Instagram! I’d be happy to answer any questions.