Spring ISD using virtual teachers to fill nearly 280 vacancies amid unprecedented shortages

As schools across the country face unprecedented teacher shortages, one Texas company is hoping their innovative approach will help fill the need. 

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Austin-based company, Proximity Learning, serves as a virtual staffing agency to school districts by providing certified teachers K-12 for hire.

"There are over 650 teachers right now actively teaching. And we are teaching a little over 3500 classes right now with about 71,000 students," said Myken Caviness, the Vice President of Client Success with Proximity Learning. 

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Spring ISD began using the model in January, after an unprecedented 277 teacher vacancies. 

According to Dr. Christian Winn, the Executive Director of Performance Management at Spring ISD, the average number of teacher vacancies for the district is under 50. She believes the method is effective. 

"We were looking for an innovative response to the high number of teacher vacancies," Winn said. "The teachers that are staffed in these positions remain with the students for the duration of the semester so it’s a step above having a long-term substitute in so many ways that first of all, they’re certified in the content, but also the students see the same teacher every day."

While providing students with consistency, Caviness said one of the biggest benefits for teachers is flexibility and competitive pay. 

The teachers could be full-time salary employees with the company, or part-time, paid for each course they sign up to teach. 

"One huge benefit is they get to work from home, so we automatically remove like the after-school duty, bus duty, lunch duty, stuff like thats," Caviness said. "We also have worked to provide an online curriculum foundation for our teachers because we're online, we want to make sure our teachers are supported with resources online. We have a team that has built content K-12, so that our teachers aren't just going into a class with nothing. We work with the schools to get their scope and sequences."

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Teachers could work in several states and different districts simultaneously, all while teaching from home.

Despite virtual instruction, students won't be left alone; every lesson will include an adult proctor in the room, functioning as a teacher’s aide. 

"In most cases, it is a paraprofessional that is assigned to the classroom to link with the virtual teacher and make sure the students are on task and the support to the instruction is provided in a hands-on manner to students in the classroom," Winn said.

All teachers are required to be certified in the state they're teaching in and must pass a background check and technology screen test, according to Proximity Learning officials. Teachers must also undergo a robust interview process and submit an online teaching video as part of the application. Those accepted will be trained for up two weeks.