‘I can’t see going back to traditional teaching’

Minooka resident teaches students in Georgia through a livestream program - and prefers it to in-classroom teaching

Candace Bui-Walston of Minooka had already transitioned into teaching remote by the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Bui-Walston, a single mother, began teaching math to ninth grade students in Georgia, via the Elevate K-12 platform, a company that livestreams instruction into classrooms and says on its website it can help solve teacher shortages.

This year, Bui-Walston teaches four math classes to six grade students in Georgia.

A friend told Bui-Walston, a former teacher in Chicago, about the opportunity to teach via the Elevate K-12 platform. Bui-Walston made the transition in January 2020, before the pandemic and before area schools adopted hybrid or remote learning programs.

The Elevate K-12 platform works very well, she said.

“I actually really, really enjoy it,” Bui-Walston said.

Bui-Walston said was a high school math teacher in Chicago from 2006 to 2010. She returned to school for her master’s degree in general administrative leadership and became an assistant principal in 2012.

By then, Bui-Walston had a newborn son and a preschool daughter. Bui-Walston typically left home at 5 a.m. and didn’t return until after 7 p.m.

“It was a lot of time away from my kids,” Bui-Walston recalled. “My daughter cried every day. So I decided in 2014 to walk away from the job.”

Bui-Walston did some math tutoring for a while. But her business rapidly grew. Soon, Bui-Walston was back to having not time with her children again, she said.

So then Bui-Walston used her education degree to teach a summer camp and some online graduate courses and to run a coaching program for business people.

“I was always involved in education,” Bui-Walston said.

But Bui-Walston missed classroom teaching. Bui-Walston feels Elevate K-12 helped her balance her home and work life.

Last year, before COVID, Bui-Walston’s students actually gathered in a real classroom overseen by a paraprofessional, she said. The students had laptops. Bui-Walston could see them, and they could see her.

Bui-Walston even had a “whiteboard” that the students could also see and “write on,” too, she said. It’s also easier to engage with the students, too.

For instance, Bui-Walston might turn her laptop to the window in winter so her students can see the snow, something they don’t experience in Georgia, she said.

“I can’t see going back to traditional teaching,” Bui-Walston said. “This fits my lifestyle much better.”

Bui-Walston said she doesn’t have to take time off work when her children, who are now 13 and 9, are sick. She can take them to their activities and short trips and not miss work. All Bui-Watson needs for her job is a laptop, Wi-Fi and a quiet room, she said.

Her last class of the day ends at 2 p.m.

“If it’s a nice day, I can go hiking,” Bui-Walston said. “Not a lot of people can say that.”

Now in this role, Bui-Walston is an independent contractor and not an employee. She doesn’t nor receive benefits and she makes less money than she did in a traditional teaching role, she added.

But Bui-Walston only teaches. Classroom management is not her responsibility, and neither is communicating with the teachers. Her class sizes have ranged from 14 to 20 students. When Bui-Watson taught in Chicago, the average number of students in a classroom was 28, she said.

“I wish more schools looked into this platform,” Bui-Walston said.

It’s not true that traditional classroom teachers have the summer off, Bui-Walston said. Administrators work year-round, she said. When she was a teacher, she taught summer school, she added.

“I never had a summer off until I decided to work for myself,” Bui-Walston said.

For more information, visit elevatek12.com.

Denise  Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.