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Fort Dodge public schools turning to virtual teachers for help

Staffing concerns are forcing the district to bring in teachers remotely for two classes this year

FORT DODGE, Iowa — Students are gearing up to head back to school in Fort Dodge in less than three weeks. But for some of them, instead of learning remotely, it will be the teachers giving instruction from outside the classroom.

School officials made the announcement last week that two classes in the district, a 7th-grade math class and a high school Spanish class, will be taught remotely for the upcoming school year.

"If I don't have a 7th-grade math teacher in a classroom to teach these kids who will be in our rooms come late August, what do we do, then?," said Dr. Kirsten Doebel, director of secondary education for the Fort Dodge Community School District.

The district blames a shortage of teachers for the move. 

"Even before the pandemic, I think we were seeing fewer and fewer people go into the profession, we can see that through the number of people entering education programs in state schools," said Dr. Doebel.

Proximity Learning, an Austin, Texas-based company, will be in charge of providing the instruction.

Michael Robinson, a representative with the company, says it's a much better alternative than providing one-way instruction, like recording a class and having students watch at any time they choose. 

"What parents should expect is that classmates will be engaging. The communication is bi-directional. The student sees the teacher, the teacher, see the students," said Robinson.

Robinson added that both are certified by the Iowa Board of Education.

Dr. Doebel admits that having a teacher physically in the classroom is optimal, but the focus is on having a qualified teacher give instruction.  And whether this works she said remains to be seen.

"I probably would be able to answer that question more effectively, if you asked me in December," she said.

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