As the giant USS Nimitz plows through the Pacific Ocean, online college teacher Linda Beckham sits on board before her computer, hoping her Internet connection stays alive.
If not, she will lose contact with another set of military students she teaches—men and women stationed in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Beckham is both an online college instructor and a traveling teacher for Central Texas College Online. You will frequently find her on Navy ships like the Nimitz, teaching online associate degree classes in English and pre-algebra with groups of sailors—sailors who are sometimes so exhausted from their duties that they stand during class, for fear of falling asleep if they were to sit down.
When not teaching face-to-face, Beckham also teaches distance education classes, mostly to military students and spouses. Sometimes she runs the courses while at sea—meaning she has to deal with an unreliable and slow Internet connection that frequently has her staying up all night to get messages out to her students. Other times, she teaches her online classes from her home in Oklahoma.
“The phone will ring at 3 a.m. and my husband will say, ‘Baghdad calling!'” says Beckham, laughing.
Beckham doesn’t mind if her distance learning military students call her from Iraq with their technical or academic problems. “After lunch in Iraq is the middle of the night in Tulsa,” she explains. “That seems to be their time to call.”
Online Teacher for Military Students Answers the Call
Beckham became an onboard military instructor after 9/11.
“My children were grown and I decided that was the thing I needed to do,” says the retired public schoolteacher. Her husband—a former Marine—supported her, even though it meant she periodically left on eight-week tours of duty that have taken her halfway around the world, from Singapore to Bahrain to the Mediterranean.
Recently, Beckham accepted a promotion with Central Texas College Online, making her the West Coast Education Boss, assigned to the Nimitz. She continues to teach military distance education courses, as well.
Whether her students are online or with her at sea, a constant challenge for her as a teacher is their military service, which comes first.
For example, students taking exams are only allowed to access the test site once. “If there’s a flicker in the electricity—which is frequent—it throws them offline,” says Beckham.
Overall, she says, the most important trait for a military instructor—whether online or live —is flexibility, including the willingness to change deadlines for students when military tasks require their absence.
Important Trait for Online Military Instructor is Flexibility
“I’ve been in extremely treacherous weather, where you couldn’t even sit in a chair without being thrown out,” she says. But she has never felt personally endangered, despite traveling all over the Middle East. The biggest hassle she’s faced was a passport snafu in Bahrain, which was quickly resolved.
“Working for the military is the best experience I’ve ever had,” says Beckham. “I am going to keep doing it as long as I can.”
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