Profile and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Anthony Lauer was born in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota while his family was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base. While attending Rapid City Public Schools, Lauer always gravitated towards math and science.
After 13 years in South Dakota, Lauer’s father retired from the Air Force and his family moved to Petoskey, where Lauer completed his junior and senior years at Petoskey High School. As a student at the University of Michigan, Lauer continued to explore and develop his interests in math and science by focussing on courses that would prepare him for medical school. His interest in medical school led him to take a position at Mott’s Children’s Hospital as a research assistant in the Department of Anesthesiology, where he helped doctors complete research in various areas that involved pain management for children. This experience helped him realize that medicine was not the best career for him. His enjoyment of working with children and his love of math led him to earn his teaching degree from the School of Education at the University of Michigan.
Lauer has been a teacher in Ann Arbor Public Schools his entire 16-year career. Before getting his first job at Huron High School, he completed his pre-student teaching experience at Tappan Middle School and then his student teaching at Pioneer High School. During his 10 years at Huron, he taught various mathematics courses and was involved in implementing technologies to support student learning.
Starting in the summer of 2007, Lauer started training to be an online mathematics teacher, and every summer since then has been part of the summer online learning program. After teaching at Huron, Lauer transferred to be a classroom math teacher at Skyline High School. A year and a half later, he moved to Community High School to coordinate the Options and Online Program offered through the Community Resource Department.
He has had his current position since January of 2014 and continues to work with students and teachers using online tools and resources to help students achieve their teaching and learning goals.
Lauer lives in Ann Arbor with his sons, Ben, who attends Scarlett Middle School, and Carter, who attends Pittsfield Elementary. When he is not online, you can usually find him tossing baseballs in a baseball cage, walking his Great Dane, fishing on Ford Lake or flying an airplane over Ann Arbor. His training to become a private pilot started two years ago and he is close to getting his license. One of his career goals is to become a flight instructor and possibly a commercial pilot.
In order to stay connected as a parent, Lauer is the PTO treasurer and a PTOC representative for Pittsfield Elementary.
What inspired you to become a teacher? The enjoyment I receive by seeing the learning of others. I see the role of a teacher is to help students understand curriculum but also help them gain a better understanding of themselves. Teachers challenge and empower students to grapple with the essential questions in order for them to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and how they relate to their environment. I believe there is a passion that develops in everyone as they gain a better understanding of the world around them. The challenge of teaching is being able to help each student understand their passion by personalizing their learning experience. I enjoy finding unique ways to overcome the challenges of personalizing learning.
What was your plan B? I dislike the idea of having a Plan B because it implies that you gave up on something. Everyone has a different path through life and none of them are linear. We all encounter experiences that influence the things we like or dislike which help you shape your future plans. Instead of thinking about a Plan B, I have a list of future opportunities that I would like to explore: airline pilot, emergency medical technician, physician’s assistant and mechanical/civil engineer.
When did you become interested in online courses? I have always been drawn to using technology to help differentiate and personalize learning. One of the first classes I taught at Huron was an elective course called Senior Advanced Math. After teaching that course for a year, I became a member of the Curriculum Adoption Team that would decide the resources that would be used by future students in this course. As part of the adoption, we decided to pilot a program that used worksheets, a scanner, bubble sheets and a computer to help target misunderstood topics for each student, which was advanced technology at that time. The continued use of technology has allowed me to personalize learning for all students, which I believe has improved their motivation and performance on assessments. As technology has improved, so has my ability to customize learning paths for each student.
Then in the summer of 2007, I completed an online instructor training offered by Michigan Virtual which focused on the use of a learning management system to serve as the learning space in an online classroom. This training inspired me to create my own online courses by using the tools I was already using in the classroom with tools that were becoming available online.
Did you take online classes in college? I took my first online course in the spring of 2005 when I was getting my master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University. I chose to take the course online because my boys were small, and commuting to classes was a challenge while working full-time. I still remember being shocked at the amount of work and time that it took to complete the course. The course included a lot of reading, writing papers, and participating in the online discussions. The discussions were the most time-consuming activity in the course. I benefited the most from the online discussions because I was able to read the thoughts of all my classmates and had time to reflect on the statements that were being made about the discussion topic. That was the only online course that I took in college, but I have completed many online training courses since taking that first course.
What do most people not know about A2 Virtual+? Most people think that online learning is a relatively new program for Ann Arbor Public Schools. For many years, online courses were offered through the Community Resource Department. The first AAPS students took online courses the fall of the 2001-2002 school year. Currently A2 Virtual+ has more than 600 students that are either taking one or two online courses, and we have about 10 students that take all their courses online. We have students that range from 5th grade through 12th grade from almost every school in our district in our program. We also have had students that are not Ann Arbor Public School students take our courses.
Another aspect of our program that is not common for all online programs is that every Ann Arbor Public School student taking an online course is assigned a highly-qualified Ann Arbor Public School teacher as either an instructor or mentor. I would also like to clarify a common misconception of online learning: Online teachers—and most students—do not work from home in their pajamas every day.
Some predict that all students will eventually attend online classes. Do you agree? I do agree that at some point a student should take an online course before graduating high school. Learning in an online environment requires a different set of skills that are not always developed in a traditional classroom. The skills that are developed in an online classroom are necessary for students to be productive as a citizen in the 21st and 22nd centuries. Students need to be effective in communicating and collaborating in virtual spaces which is possible in most online courses. Students benefit from an A2 Virtual+ online experience as our program offers a high-level of support as students navigate and learn the skills necessary to be effective learners in these non-traditional spaces.
Describe an average work day. The best part of my job is that no day is ever the same. I always start my day by making sure that our enrollment/registration systems are working correctly. If not then I am troubleshooting and correcting the issue. Then I always start working on responding to emails which can take as little as 30 minutes or all day. Generally, I read and respond to 50 emails from students and parents a day. The goal is to respond to each email in less than 24 hours. After emails, I work on creating and enhancing online learning spaces; enrolling students and teachers in those spaces; updating information on our website (a2virtual.org) and continuing to improve our program by finding effective ways to collect, analyze and share information about online learning.
What’s the highlight of your day? I really look forward to the days that I am working directly with students. I especially look forward to the days that I can observe classrooms that are using blended learning. I am one of the facilitators for Lighthouse Blended Learning Training for teachers that are currently occurring in our district. As part of that training, I have the opportunity to visit classrooms, which is always a highlight as I get to see students have the opportunity to interact with each other and their teachers in online spaces.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning? Teaching does not occur without learning. In order for learning to occur for every student, teaching needs to involve multiple opportunities for students to engage in the content. The use of online tools and online spaces affords learning to happen in a different media which gives students another opportunity to engage in the content.
Which apps and websites would you recommend to other teachers? There are so many great apps and websites out there for teachers. My one recommendation for teachers when they start to use multiple apps, websites and online tools is to think about your classroom’s online space. Think about your goals for this space, your audience and how it will be accessed. The top apps for me that I have encountered in the past year are See Saw; Twitter; EdPuzzle; Kahoot; Plickers; Google Classroom and Moodle.
How do you stay organized? The key for me to staying organized is making sure that whatever program I am using can be used on any device and syncs to each device. But I have purposely turned off all email notifications on all my devices. I treat my inbox like a to-do list and only access it when I know that I can work on what might be in there. I also keep my personal emails separate so that I can have some separation between my personal life and school life. The backbone of my organization is Google Calendar as I use it to access my activities on any device.
I also use Evernote to keep organized because I can make notes in notebooks and easily add pictures to the notes using pictures on my device. I also use Scannable because it allows me to use my phone to digitize traditional resources.
What was always written on your report card in grade school? No comment!
How have things changed in your 16 years in education? The first change has been an enhanced focus on the use of assessments to influence instruction. The usefulness of the results from the assessments has also improved so that teachers can directly impact the learning that occurs in their classroom. The second change has been an increased use of technology to support student-centered learning. Students are using more technology as part of their learning due to the fact that technology has improved and teachers have improved access to professional development centered around the use of technology,
If you could change one thing about public education, what would it be? I think there should be a focus on improving public perception of what happens in public schools. Most of the media coverage surrounding public schools focuses on the schools that are in financial or academic distress. There are so many great things happening in public education that need to be shared with the public.
What would you tell a college student considering becoming a teacher? I always encourage college students to make sure that they volunteer in as many classrooms as possible before making the commitment to becoming a teacher. In order to have a good idea of what it is like to be a teacher, you must experience it first hand and in many different classroom environments. I have been a teacher in four different high schools within the Ann Arbor Public Schools and teaching in each building was very different due to the needs of the students.
What’s most exciting about your personal life right now? I have been training and studying for almost two years to get my private pilot license. My training had involved over 80 of flight and around 300 landings. I am planning to take my exams in the next couple of month and looking forward to a summer of flying and visiting new places.