By Steve Pickett

LANCASTER, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Make believe you are a slice of pizza being digested,” science teacher Patrice Lasley proposes to her seventh grade students from Elise Robertson Middle School in Lancaster.

The comments came during a class discussion on  enzyme food breakdown in the small intestine.

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But Lasley guides her students through the digestive system from her home in Savannah, Georgia.

The Lancaster ISD students are in their second floor classroom, receiving instruction via a live stream from the web.  They have never met their teacher in person.

The education setting is a teaching option accessed by the southern Dallas County school district as a way to bypass their mounting teacher shortage.

“The reality of it is we are in a national crisis teacher shortage, and Lancaster is not immune to that shortage,” Kimberly Simpson, Lancaster ISD spokesman said Thursday.

LISD started the school year with 7100 students and an expected 400 teachers.  The district, facing the same circumstances as school systems nationally, had a teacher deficit of 30, mainly science, math and foreign language teachers.

Despite aggressive recruitment efforts, offers of signing bonuses or rewards, the district turned to Elevate 9-12, a national e-learning firm, that offers certified teachers to teach students remotely.

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Lancaster, Cedar Hill, Rice, Vernon and five other Texas school districts use remote teachers streamed into classrooms, while the students are monitored and supported in the classroom by another adult.

“What you’re seeing is real life adjusting and pivoting to new things in education.  One is remote education.  It’s a reality for those of us who don’t have the teachers in person.  These are certified, highly qualified teachers,” Simpson emphasized.

The students inside Lasley’s 10:15 a.m. class Friday followed along course instruction with laptops and a large video monitor to view Lasley’s teaching.

“Classroom Coach” Terry Tucker makes sure students are on task, reinforces instructions and assists with technical concerns.

Student Eugene Dent, age 12, quickly stood before the classroom camera and microphone, and answered questions provided by Lasley.

He and other students referenced the past school year, filled with virtual learning and COVID protocols, as a preview for the use of a remote teacher.

“She’s here because we couldn’t get science teachers to come here.  It feels the same, because when we were home quarantining, I got used to it. Its not really different,” Dent said.

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Lancaster ISD wants to find qualified teachers for each classroom, they say.  But until that happens, the teacher shortage will be filled by remote educators, who may be living somewhere else throughout the nation.