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Q & A with Leslie Fetzer

Posted on May 25, 2012

Leslie Fetzer is the winner of the 2012 Online Teacher of the Year Award. She is an online teacher at the North Carolina Virtual Public School and a part of a unique OCS program. This program equips students with mild to intermediate disabilities with the skills needed to successfully engage in post-secondary education/training, competitive employment, and independent living.

Q: How does winning the 2012 Online Teacher of the Year Award affect you?

A: I am busier than ever traveling all over talking with people about what I do. I love meeting new people as well as hearing what other schools are doing.

Q: What steps did you take to be educated in online learning?

A: I had no formal training with online learning. I taught eight years in a traditional school and then decided to try online learning. I have had excellent on-the-job training and coaching. I would also consider each of my colleagues mentors, as I hope they do me.

Q: What does OCS stand for?

A: It stands for the Occupational Course of Study. This program is a diploma-earning program for students with disabilities that would not be successful in an inclusion setting.

Q: Who developed the course content for the OCS program?

A: The course content was developed by a team exceptional children (EC) teachers and content teachers based on the Universal Design for Learning, Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Teaching, and the North Carolina State Standards.

Q: Can you explain more about the OCS program set up for the NC Virtual Public Schools in which online and classroom teachers paired up to teach students with disabilities?

A: The No Child Left Behind Act prompted the development of the OCS Blended Learning Program. Teachers who had been teaching for years suddenly were deemed “not highly qualified” because their degree was not in subject-specific content areas.  The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina Virtual Public School teamed up to create the OCS Blended Learning Program. In the OCS Blended Learning Program, an online content teacher is paired with an EC teacher in the classroom. It is a blended learning program for students with disabilities. They have an online teacher and a classroom teacher. I am the online teacher and one of my classroom teachers is named Lindsey Taylor.

Q: How did you get teamed up with Lindsey Taylor?

A: It is totally random. Any public school in North Carolina can enroll their OCS class to take one of our OCS Blended Learning Courses. Many times, co-teachers request to work with each other in the future, and we try to honor those requests.

Q: How often do you plan lessons with the other teacher you are working with? For example, Taylor?

A: We communicate with the classroom teacher (Taylor) daily asynchronously and at least once a week synchronously. Planning is a part of all of these conversations. Generally, we make a long-term plan together, but we work together daily to adjust based on the needs of each student. The benefit to teaching in this model is that every student has the content that they need every day.

Q: Was there ever any problems with getting along with the random teacher pairs that were set up?

A: Sometimes. At first some teachers didn’t know what to expect with the OCS Blended Learning Program.  The classroom teachers we work with are skilled professionals that were suddenly told they were not highly qualified and told to teach an entirely new curriculum. There were some cases where teachers did not know what to expect and were skeptical of students being able to learn the curriculum, and also skeptical of their ability to learn online.  Some were worried that they would be lab facilitators watching a class of kids on the computer to make sure that they were not visiting other sites. Once they realized that the students were really engaged and that they are an important part of the teaching, most changed their minds about the program quickly.

Q: Are the students at home or at the brick and mortar when they do your online learning courses?

A: Students that are taking courses in our OCS Blended Learning Program are at their brick- and-mortar school. Students taking courses in either our Credit Recovery or Traditional Courses may be taking their courses at their brick-and-mortar school, at home, or wherever they consistently access the internet.

Q: What related services for SWD does NCVPS provide? Please list some examples.

A: In the OCS Blended Learning Program, we meet with our co-teachers early on to go over each student’s IEP. At that time we identify the accommodations that we can meet, and those for which brick-and-mortar school will take responsibility. An example of an accommodation the brick-and-mortar school is responsible for is a separate setting for testing. We have audio throughout our courses for students that require material read aloud, and we can add audio to all of our announcements, grading feedback, and course messages. We have transcriptions for all videos for students that are hearing impaired. We create alternate assignments as needed.

Q: Where are IEPs handled?

A: In the OCS program every student has an IEP. The formal IEP meeting occurs at the brick-and-mortar school. The online teacher is sometimes asked to be a part of the formal IEP meeting. Informal IEP meetings happen on a continuous basis through communication with the co-teachers. These informal communications ensure that each student’s needs are being met.

Q: Who is involved with the IEP meetings?

A: Formal IEP meetings are held at the brick and mortar schools and involve parents, students, teachers, counselors.  Teachers from the OCS Blended Learning Program may be invited to attend these meetings as a conference call. Informally, the OCS Blended Learning online teacher and classroom co-teacher discuss the students’ IEPs on a regular basis to ensure that all needs are met.

Thanks to Leslie, we learned a great deal. We’ll talk about that in Part 2.

Katie Mulich is a blogger and reporter for the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities.

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