Virtual classroom is rewarding

Idaho Statesman
Michael Burke

It’s the beginning of a new year and I wanted to share why I am grateful to work with middle school students as a science teacher at INSPIRE Connections Academy. As a free online public school that serves students in grades K-12 across Idaho, my students log on to school each day eager to dive into their lessons. I am grateful for this opportunity, not only for the lessons I teach these students, but also for the lessons they teach me.

There are many things I’ve learned from my students, but there is one thought that is always at the front of my mind each time we start a lesson together: My students’ diverse backgrounds and experiences will help their learning. At times, science can be a straightforward subject, especially in middle school where students are studying foundational topics. However, by creating an environment to let students discover answers on their own and share their opinions, I’ve found these basic lessons can turn into captivating learning opportunities. Quite often my role turns into that of a motivator as the students explore topics and share their discoveries with each other. It’s amazing to watch the interactions between students that, for example, live on opposite sides of Idaho or between students growing up on a ranch versus in a big city. Whether they realize it or not, they’re helping to teach each other and make the lessons more memorable and meaningful.

I am also thankful for the individual attention I can offer each of my students. In the virtual environment, there’s no fear of embarrassment to ask for help. If a student needs extra support with a lesson, we can review the content together one-on-one. Similarly, if a student is ready to move forward on a topic in which they excel, they can as they are allowed to work at their own pace. Whether a student is struggling or excelling, I am always in constant communication with my students and their families. There’s no need to wait for a parent/student/teacher conference as I am never more than a phone call, email, or online class away.

Plus, an added bonus is being able to meet my students and families face-to-face. Throughout the year we host picnics and field trip activities. I believe getting out of the classroom and exploring the outdoors is essential to a well-rounded science education. That’s why I plan field trips to the Sawtooth Mountains and Craters of the Moon National Monument each year. Whether we’re snowshoeing across ancient lava flows, discussing geological formations, or learning about local flora and fauna, my students are getting a hands-on learning experience that is truly unique.

In my four years at INSPIRE, I’ve made lasting connections with my students and families. I often hear from former students that have graduated or moved out of state that simply want to share their new lives or accomplishments with me. I am truly thankful for each and every student that enters my class. Each one of my students has a different story, background, passion or lesson that serves as an inspiration to me — an inspiration that I take with me for each year of my teaching career.

Michael Burke is an INSPIRE Connections Academy teacher.