Renee Citlau is sipping a latte at a local Starbucks. It looks like she’s checking e-mail or updating her Facebook status, but she is actually hard at work teaching her online high school accounting class.
When Citlau learned she had been named the 2013 National Online Teacher of the Year by the Southern Regional Education Board and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), she was so surprised that she almost spilled her coffee.
“I was surprised — and humbled,” says Citlau, Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association. “It’s really quite an honor.”
As National Online Teacher of the Year, Citlau represents the online learning field at several events and professional conferences, sharing her expertise and insight with audiences across the country. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson praised her outstanding ability to help students thrive in the digital age.
Once a teacher with a classroom, she’s taught solely online accounting and webpage design classes at Cypress High School and the Anaheim Union High School District for the past seven years. Citlau designs her own curriculum, which is aligned to state standards as well as iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Courses. She belongs to a professional learning community of online teachers and has virtual meetings with students one evening a week on Blackboard Collaborate, which is similar to Skype.
She became an online teacher after participating in Pepperdine’s online master’s program for educators.
“Online learning has the potential to increase student engagement, increase equity in course offerings, and develop the 21st century skills such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication that students need in order to compete in a global economy.”
In Citlau’s words:
The best part of being an online teacher is…
seeing students blossom in the online environment. Cultural and geographic barriers are broken down as students from across the district collaborate on projects or participate in discussions. Many students say the most important thing they learned in my class was teamwork from collaborating with a variety of online tools such as Wikis and Google documents.
My online students…
are traditional high school students and include the whole gamut of students, including AP, English learners and special education students.
A good online teacher…
practices 21st century skills such as collaboration and creativity; is detail-oriented but flexible; and has a good understanding of best practices in online pedagogy and online course design scaffold learning, so that all students can access the curriculum and be successful.
Relationships with online students…
are vitally important for student success in the online classroom. I purposely build community in my online classes and incorporate strategies for students to connect with me and other students in the class. It’s ironic, but I am more connected to my online students than I was with the students in my face-to-face classroom. One online student said it was having his very own teacher.
Best advice for teaching an online course?
Learn about best practices in online pedagogy and course design. Purposely build community. Develop courses that include relevant, real-life projects and 21st century skills. Join a PLC (professional learning community) of like-minded, reflective teachers.