Expanded Roles For Online Credit Recovery Teachers (Part 1 of 3)

By Nellie Mae Education Foundation
July 3, 2017

As schools and districts have worked to develop online credit recovery programs, key aspects of program development have often fallen to the teachers. Highly motivated teachers have frequently taken on additional responsibilities, leading them to play the role of advocate, recruiter, course developer, academic advisor, and liaison. The following excerpt explores these new roles in the context of online credit recovery development

Teacher as program advocate

Because online credit recovery courses are relatively new in many schools, teachers frequently take on the role of informing colleagues and advocating for the courses’ value. Early in the study, online credit recovery teachers at several schools reported that many staff believed online courses were less rigorous than traditional courses, rewarded poor work habits in traditional courses, and reduced students’ motivation to pass traditional courses. While online credit recovery teachers acknowledged that these negative incentives may indeed influence some students, they also noted that students had been failing courses since long before the advent of online courses, and that offering online credit recovery is consistent with their schools’ emphasis on providing alternative routes to a diploma.

Over the course of the study, online credit recovery teachers at many schools noted a shift toward greater acceptance and appreciation of online courses among their colleagues. The teachers attributed this in part to colleagues’ increased familiarity with the courses, having spent time in an online credit recovery classroom, discussing the courses with students, and working with an online credit recovery teacher to structure courses and supports for students. By facilitating these touchpoints, online credit recovery teachers became essential advocates for the program.

Such efforts were not universally successful, however. At one school, several factors made implementing online courses very challenging and led the school to return to a more traditional teacher-led credit recovery approach. These factors included lack of teacher support for online courses, serious challenges with staff turnover and hardware availability, and limited student presence in the school building to receive teacher supervision.

Teacher as student recruiter

Online credit recovery teachers also serve as advocates for the program with students who are not enrolled in online courses. Two study schools reported that many students did not realize that online courses might enable them to graduate with fewer additional class hours than if they retook the same courses in a traditional classroom. This was particularly true for students who earned high scores on the online pre-tests, thereby demonstrating that they had learned much of the material when they took the course in a traditional classroom format. At one school, enrollment increased after credit recovery teachers held a meeting with under-credited seniors to educate them about online courses. Online credit recovery teachers at several schools also enlisted current students to recruit friends who needed to recover credits.

Teacher as problem-solver

The credit recovery teacher is often the first adult to notice problems with online courses and to advocate with administrators for changes. One district in the study only permitted students to enroll in one online course at a time. The credit recovery teacher recognized that students were bored and wanted more variety, and she convinced administrators to allow students to take up to two courses at a time. Teachers frequently engage in finding solutions to other aspects of program development as well, seeking administrative supports that reinforce classroom expectations, ensuring sufficient staffing, and pursuing opportunities for their own professional development.

Teacher as course developer

The courseware provided to study participant schools was highly customizable. The vendors offered extensive course content, typically exceeding local curriculum requirements, with the final course content determined by some combination of district and school personnel, curriculum coordinators, and classroom teachers. Online credit recovery teachers often provided feedback and consultation in this process. Teachers frequently notified curriculum coordinators and classroom teachers when particular modules or activities were flawed, poorly structured, or could not be successfully completed by even the most diligent students. Such activities were then typically replaced with alternatives. Some teachers also reported when courses had too many activities on the same topic and were, therefore, taking too long to complete after students had already demonstrated mastery. Finally, some curriculum coordinators who were developing new courses consulted with online credit recovery teachers to determine which of the available activities would be most effective.

Many course development decisions were less formal. Teachers often made on-the-spot decisions about course modifications when they identified problems like those described above or realized that the course content was not appropriate in some way. Even when they lacked content knowledge relevant to a particular course, their extensive experience with students using the courseware enabled them to provide insights about which activities would be most successful.

Teacher as academic advisor and liaison

Online credit recovery teachers are routinely called upon to stretch beyond their areas of licensure and expertise to support students. Most of the online credit recovery teachers in participant schools were certified in one or more academic disciplines or special education. They also received support from paraprofessionals. However, they supervised students who were taking courses in a wide range of academic disciplines. Over time, teachers expanded their knowledge in order to support students more effectively, often completing parts of courses themselves, watching tutorials with students, reviewing textbooks and websites, and consulting with colleagues.

Online credit recovery teachers sometimes sent students to see teachers with relevant expertise during after-school office hours, or asked those same colleagues to come to the credit recovery classroom during planning periods. One credit recovery teacher knew that a science teacher was on hall duty right outside the credit recovery classroom, and the two teachers swapped roles for part of the period so students could have more skilled supervision for their online science courses.

Because such requests relied on serendipity and the colleagues’ generosity, they required an online credit recovery teacher who was well networked within the school, had strong interpersonal skills, and was willing to make the extra effort and expend the required social capital. Harnessing school resources in this way is typically an administrative duty, but administrators in several schools did not provide that support. Some administrators did make more formal arrangements, recruiting teachers from different academic disciplines to support credit recovery students after-school, or scheduling a group of students to take online mathematics courses with supervision from a mathematics teacher. One school paid teachers a stipend to staff the credit recovery classroom during their planning periods. Even with such arrangements, however, some students were left without expert supervision, and credit recovery teachers typically took on the responsibility of trying to fill any gaps.

Learn more by reading the full report, executive summary, or teacher’s brief.

This article is part of the Online High School Credit Recovery series, adapted from the Online Courses For Credit Recovery: Promising Practices For High School Teachers report, conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute with support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, which explored online credit recovery programs at 24 Massachusetts high schools.

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