8 Tips for Successfully Completing an Online Teacher Education Program

By Dr. Tammy Lynn Woody
School of Education Program Director, American Public University

Dr. Tammy Lynn Woody

As a former certification officer and program director for an online school of education, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of helping many candidates become state-certified K-12 educators. I’ve also witnessed an unfortunate number of withdrawals and failures to complete programs. It is an arduous journey to become a certified and highly qualified teacher. Drawing on my personal experiences as well as information students have shared with me over the years about online teacher preparation programs, I’d like to share eight tips:

  1. If you haven’t set foot in a classroom recently, volunteer in a public school before you start an online teacher preparation program. The realities of the classroom are most likely very different from your childhood memories of school.
  2. Ask yourself whether you really love working with children and want to make a difference in their lives; don’t enter teaching for summers off or because it’s conducive to your family’s schedule. You have to be passionate about helping kids in order to be successful in the field.
  3. Determine your level of independence and your ability to deal with paperwork; both online education and being a teacher in today’s schools require high levels of organization, self-discipline, problem-solving/multi-tasking abilities, and excellent written and oral communication skills. Keep in mind that the field of education is among the most highly regulated fields in the world and documentation of activities and progress with students can be overwhelming for some new teachers.
  4. Contact your local state department of education before you apply for an online teacher preparation program to inquire about whether your state recognizes an online teacher preparation program. Some states have very specific requirements about online educator preparation programs. Ask about the specific requirements you’ll need to be certified in the area in which you want to teach.
  5. Seek out an institution that has regional accreditation and look for a college or university that is state-approved. You will most likely not qualify for state certification once you complete your program unless your program is state-approved by a state’s department of education. Speak with an advisor about any college coursework/degrees you may have completed and how these might impact the teacher preparation program in which you have interest.
  6. Start slowly with only one or two courses. I see a significant number of withdrawals in a student’s first semester when they load up on courses. Online learning requires extensive reading and writing, which is time consuming.
  7. Don’t be afraid to transfer to a more traditional (i.e. brick and mortar) program if you don’t feel that your personal needs for face-to-face time are being met in an online teacher preparation program. Online learning is not for everyone and there are often some technology requirements in an online environment such as uploading streaming video of yourself teaching that you may be unable to meet.
  8. Lastly, if you have friends or family members who teach, speak with currently practicing teachers to find out what you can do to become more prepared during your preparation program and student-teaching exercises. Practitioners are a wealth of knowledge!

~ Dr. Tammy Lynn Woody has been with the APUS School of Education for more than four years and has functioned in a variety of roles including: certification officer, field experience coordinator and school counseling program director. Prior to joining the APUS team, she served in numerous capacities in PreK-12 education including: lead preschool teacher, substitute teacher, counseling intern and professional school counselor. Her doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction was completed through West Virginia University while she was a member of the Eastern Panhandle doctoral cohort. She currently holds professional school counselor certification in both West Virginia and Virginia and serves on numerous regional educational and counseling boards in leadership positions.

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