9 Things Online Teachers are Not

9 Things Online Teachers are Not!

Online teaching involves being many things at once.
It’s a demanding career, and we happily wear several hats – often at the same time.

On any given work day, we might be:

  • Mentors
  • Content Experts
  • Writers
  • Technology Guides
  • Assessors, and
  • Counsellors.

There are many facets to the job, and our students tend to be diverse, with a wide range of needs.

Sometimes this leads to unrealistic expectations.
So if you find yourself about to play a role you never signed up for, maybe it’s time to stop for a second, and double check your job description…

You’re already drawing from a deep well of skills.
And there’s a limit to what you need to fit into any given work day.
There’s no surer road to burnout than trying to be all things to all students.

It’s also dangerous to teach your students that they should automatically turn to you when they have an issue.

Part of the process of online education is for students to become independent and confident lifelong learners. So as part of that process, they do need to learn to be self-sufficient.
They need to develop the skills to access the resources they need.

You simply can’t do everything for them – and you shouldn’t.

Here are 9 roles that online teachers should never try to play.

1.  Night Owl

Online teachers are not nocturnal creatures.

We’re not on call.
We don’t work the night shift.

Access to our expertise ends at the end of the working day.

Make sure your students know you don’t answer emails during dinner.
And a 3am call is likely to go unanswered.


online teachers are not night owls

2.  Professional Entertainer

Sure, we try to make online learning as engaging as possible.
But online learning is not a form of entertainment.

It requires time, commitment, and work from students.

Yes, we try to appeal to different learning styles.
We use a range of resources and materials.

But online learning is not like playing a video game or watching a movie.
It involves student engagement with course materials, research and writing.


online teachers are not entertainers (1)

3.  Fairy Godmother

Many online learners work full or part time.
They have many competing demands on their time and energy.

So it’s not surprising that many adult learners are grappling with Life Issues.
Sometimes those issues will impact their ability to study.

This is perfectly understandable.

And so is their need to confide in you, often with quite personal information.
This is part of the online teaching role.

Naturally, you need to keep private student information confidential.
And to make all reasonable allowances to help those students continue in the course, such as offering extensions or special consideration.

But a distressed student can easily forget about maintaining boundaries.
They might expect you to step in, and help in ways that you’re simply not qualified to do.
When this happens, don’t attempt to be their Fairy Godmother.

Maintain professional boundaries, and refer them to the appropriate Student Support service.
This way, they get the help they need from a professional trained in the relevant area.


online teachers are not fairy godmothers


4.  Police Officer

Students who are new to online learning sometimes expect you to oversee their daily activities.

And yes, we do maintain law and order in the online course.
We explain the need for good manners, and what constitutes acceptable behaviour.

But we’re not policing whether students are doing all of the reading.
We’re not keeping tabs on who’s checking in with the course on a daily basis.

The self-directed nature of online learning means that students must provide their own motivation from day to day.

And it will be clear how much work they’ve done when we grade their assignments, right?


online teachers are not police


5.  The Flash

Naturally, we strive to achieve target deadlines for returning student work.
We respond to student questions as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

But feedback on work and email replies cannot be provided instantly.
To make that possible, we’d need to work all of the time – and not burn out.

It’s dangerous to our physical and mental wellbeing to try to be The Flash.


online teachers are not the flash


6.  Cupid

As online teachers, we can make sure that the online learning environment is set up to be as user-friendly as possible.

We can be accessible and helpful, and make sure students are comfortable approaching us.
We can tailor course materials to the needs of our learner cohorts.

But we can’t force students to fall in love with online learning.

For some of them, this kind of study is simply not going to be appealing.


online teachers are not cupid


7.  IT Expert

Online teachers get to know quite a bit about our learning management system.
We’re using it every day.
We help to set it up every semester, and often populate it with relevant content.

And yes, we can provide guidance with the day to day issues that students will encounter.

But we’re subject experts rather than IT experts.
So if a student has a complicated technical glitch to wrangle, the best people to help with that are the IT Helpdesk.


online teachers are not IT experts


8.  Guru

To teach effectively in our chosen discipline, we need to know our subjects well.
But we don’t know everything there is to know.

Most subject areas are changing and developing all the time.
And we can work on staying current through professional development activities.

But realistically, our knowledge of our specialist subjects will never cover every possible angle.

So it’s OK to admit we don’t know the answer to a left-of-field question.
We have the skills to figure out the answer, and share it with the class later.
Or we can set the student who’s asking the tricky question the task of finding the answer, and reporting back to the class about it.


online teachers are not gurus


9.  Magical Being

The world of online learning is governed by a clear set of rules.
Sure, some of them can be bent a little bit when necessary.

For example, a deadline can be extended when an extension is warranted.
But there are clear limits.

We can’t accept student submissions when a semester is already over.
We can’t magically change grades on request.

The rules are in place to ensure an even playing field.
Waving a magic wand for some students and not others would be unfair and unethical.


online teachers are not magical


Online Teachers Already Wear Many Hats

Teaching online is often demanding.
We draw on a wide range of skills every day to guide and inspire our learners.

But it’s potentially dangerous to move into areas we’re not qualified to advise on.
So it’s wise to refer students with particular needs to experts in those fields.
They have the training and systems in place to help our students in ways that we can’t.

This approach sets up the widest possible support net for our students.
It helps to make sure our learners get the most they can out of the educational experience.

And it frees us to focus on doing an amazing job in the meantime.

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