When I pulled up Jeff Solochek’s Gradebook post on the drive to unionize teachers at Florida Virtual School, I got stuck on the first clause: After teaching middle school science at Florida Virtual School for nine years…
I wondered: What does an online middle school science class look like? The course description I looked at mentioned “online laboratory experiences”. Are those as effective in promoting deep student learning as physical hands-on labs? Do students work together in virtual groups? We certainly know from decades of research that students learn best when they are interacting with each other. Do the virtual courses acknowledge that? Has anyone even given any of this serious thought?
And how would a student who has been raised in virtual school science classes react to the learning environment I maintain in my face-to-face classroom, where we leverage carefully designed hands-on experiences and complex social interactions to give every student the best chance to learn with understanding? Can a student raised exclusively on virtual science classes adapt to my classroom, where students learn twice as much as they do in traditional lecture classes?
And…why would a science teacher want to teach a virtual science class?
Eventually, I got past the first clause, and I found this from the FLVS teacher running the unionization drive, Lauren Masino:
She said the school, which currently contracts with each teacher individually, expects educators to be available 60 hours a week for work.
“If we don’t we get poor scores on our surveys,” she said. “We have no work-life balance.”
This sounds suspiciously like the reality for those who teach in physical classrooms as well. It seems that in the end, we expect teachers – in physical or virtual classrooms – to be so passionate about what they are doing that they are willing to accept working conditions that those in many other professions would find unacceptable. And most teachers do so.
I have no doubt that as a certified middle school science teacher Ms. Masino could easily find a job working in a physical middle school science classroom, where she would have union representation. I wonder why she hasn’t done so. But in the end it is tempting to conclude that teachers’ unions – lightning rods though they are – are neither the primary problem in the K-12 system nor the solution to any of the big issues.