George Lucas Educational Foundation

Idaho Digital Learning Academy

Grades 9-12 | Statewide, ID

How Holly Mortimer Took Her Teaching Career Online

It takes a certain kind of educator to thrive as a full-time online teacher. Holly Mortimer describes how skills like responsiveness and flexibility are critical to create the best online learning experiences for students.
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How Holly Mortimer Took Her Teaching Career Online (Transcript)

Holly: The objectives for this lesson are to understand the concepts of water scarcity and water shortages.

I'm Holly Mortimer. I live in Boise, Idaho, and I teach high school online for three different schools, and I work from home.

I get up about 6:45, 7:00, and I make coffee and get my son up and get him going, get him ready and then start working.

Hey, Beckett, you need to go play somewhere else right now. Thank you.

I usually start with a school and I respond to all my e-mail, grade, prep for a lesson, and the other thing that I kind of struggle with is the days when you're all of a sudden like, "It's five to three and I'm still in my pajamas and I haven't brushed my teeth."

So we start Module 8 this week.

So I have a broad range of students. I have some athletes, kids who weren't in school last year, students who are at risk.

And I want you to draw a line to how much water you think it takes to produce that item.

The key shift for an online teacher is to go from the paradigm of thinking about what you're going to teach and how you're going to teach it to, what are the kids learning and how are they not learning and how are they not engaged? It totally shifts from the content to the student.

Jessie, it looks like you're typing. Do you have a question?

The way that you engage the kids is by prompt feedback. When they reach out to you, you got to grab them. At iSucceed, we have a pretty high expectation for rapid turnaround of grading, and they quickly become really kind of addicted to that, so super-prompt response when they reach out, immediate if you can, definitely within 24 hours. I mean, that's how you are there in the classroom, and if you're not responding promptly, they just feel like they're in the wilderness.

So you should be seeing an MP4 file loading, and I'll put the link in the chat.

As an online teacher, your level of accountability is much higher. You're not only accountable at the end of every testing cycle. We have different grade metrics, lots of different ways that we measure them, and there's a lot of data, a lot of data. From my perspective, I kind of have a bring-it-on attitude to that.

The key is not how much water there is but that it's predictable, so in some places of...

If really what you love about teaching is creating curriculum, displays in your classroom, designing lessons, designing tests or assessments, it's not the place for you, because that is what has been done for you.

Well, I think I would put it into a chart.

But if you're the person who really enjoys kind of the encouragement, the "come on, I know you can do this," the cheerleading aspect of teaching, working with the student, really seeing clearly their progress...


... and being really involved with the students, then it's a great choice, because that's what you'll be doing. I think if there's an isolation professionally, it's counterweighted with the opposite of isolation for my family, because I'm always here, so I see my husband. We have lunch almost every day. We're just all more present together, so I'm less isolated from my family, and it makes up for it.

Narrator: For more information about what works in education, go to

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Video Credits

Senior Producer

  • Grace Rubenstein


  • Karen Sutherland

Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely

Camera Crew

  • Doug Keely
  • Ken Ellis

Executive Producer

  • Ken Ellis

Support for Edutopia's Schools That Work series is provided, in part, by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

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Mary Laubenstein's picture
Mary Laubenstein
9th & 10th Grade English teacher

Holly -- How did you start your career as an online teacher? Were you in a regular classroom first? I'm very interested in making the transition from traditional classroom to virtual classroom. I'm currently teaching 9th and 10th grade English in a small district in Northern Minnesota. Any tips you have would be greatly appreciated!

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