Photo: Jon M. Fletcher
Floridian of the Year 2019
FLVS Teacher of the Year Lisa Fabulich shares her reflections on “virtual” teaching
Lisa Fabulich was set to go to med school until she took a career-altering course her senior year.
A self-professed “science nerd,” Lisa Fabulich was on track to go to medical school until a senior seminar class in college made her “come alive in a different way than I had done just studying biology.” She threw out all her med school applications and applied to University of Florida to get her master’s degree in education.
After graduating, she taught life science full time to seventh-graders in Gainesville for about two years. She left briefly to teach biology at a rural Virginia high school in the Appalachian Mountains — “a very Friday Night Lights kind of experience there,” she recalls — before returning to Gainesville and joining Florida Virtual School (FLVS) as a middle school biology teacher.
Thirteen years later, she’s still with FLVS, now working with gifted students, and was recently named FLVS Teacher of the Year. She shared these reflections on “virtual” teaching:
Misconceptions: “A lot of people ask me: ‘Don’t you miss being with the kids?’ I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m with my students so much.’ When I was in the classroom, I’d see that student for maybe 50 minutes, 45 minutes at a time, and I’d see them in a group with 25 kids. I might not be able to have an individual conversation with a student, let alone get to know their whole family. (Now) I’m talking to mom or dad or grandma. I get to know their dogs that are barking in the background.”
Connecting: “I’ve taught lessons on the layers of the Earth, using Minecraft as part of it. I’ve taught lessons on energy wavelengths using Harry Potter spells. We try to make that content connect with something they’re interested in, something they care about.”
Student body: “We have students that are so cool, famous tennis players and actors and swimmers. We had kids come in after the hurricane. We’ve had kids come after Parkland and stuff, where kids just feel safer doing school with our program. It’s great for military families that get transferred. A lot of students are with us because they were missing a lot of school for health reasons, they’re in a hospital or home bound.”
Gifted kids: “There’s a lot of struggles our gifted kids face. Issues with perfectionism and over-excitabilities. They develop their academic abilities sometimes a lot faster than their social and emotional abilities.”
Staff bonding: “There used to be a lot of negativity sometimes in the breakroom of brick-and-mortar schools. I don’t feel that in virtual school with my co-workers here.”
Best part of the job: “My favorite part is watching the kids start to bond with each other and get to know each other. They see each other and get to chat about things. The things they bond on are common interests, like anime, Minecraft or being a Jehovah’s Witness. Those connections form based on those common interests and not based on outside judgy things.”
No faking it: “Our kids are savvy. They know if you’re bought into them, into what you’re doing, or if you are just going through the motions, if you’re not making the effort to connect one on one.”
Who Wants To Be An Educator?
The Florida Teacher
- Florida’s 177,000-plus teachers on average have been on the job for just shy of 12 years. They average $48,500 for their 10 months of work.
- Teaching remains a woman-dominated career — 79% of the state’s teachers are female.
- In a diverse state, teachers are less so. Among teachers, just 16% are Hispanic, compared to 32% of public school students. Some 14% are black vs. 23% of students. Whites make up 68% of teachers, but just 40% of students.
State of the Profession
- The Florida Council of 100 says only 3% of Florida ACT test takers want to be educators, the lowest percentage in the nation.
- Only half of Florida teachers feel adequately supported or encouraged in their work or believe they have adequate control of planning and classroom teaching in their classrooms, the council says.
- Nearly all — 98% of teachers — are evaluated as effective or highly effective in their classes, while 40% of students fail Florida standards testing.
- The council said standards for admittance to schools of education — class rank, test scores and others — need to rise and personalities assessed before hiring to see suitability.
Read more in Florida Trend's December issue.
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