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This 79-year-old ex-nun has a booming business showing teachers how to thrive in Zoom classrooms

Dr. Emily Feistritzer founded Teach-Now in 2011, helping 21st-century teachers to master the art of online education.

WASHINGTON — It’s not every day one meets a multi-millionaire ex-nun, who knew her way around Zoom years before you did. Yet here we are, a new peripatetic protagonist for the upside-down world of 2020.

Dr. Emily Feistritzer positively glows behind her Corvette-colored, red-rimmed glasses. She used to sell glow-in-the-dark statues of the Virgin Mary as her first business venture, but she’s come a long way from her Benedictine convent in the 1960s.

Feistritzer was the subject of a wide-ranging Washington Post profile in 2016, a piece detailing how she moved from business to business, eventually settling on an all-online distance education company – its trajectory then difficult to foresee.

She founded her start-up, Teach-Now, in 2011. The business concept held that 21st-century teachers would need to master how to instruct all of their students online, understanding best practices for complete virtual engagement.

Less than 10 years later, coronavirus took hold.

“Back in 2011, there seemed to be a real need for a program that really was focused on preparing tomorrow's teachers for tomorrow's learning world,” Feistritzer said. “I've been in this field for almost a half a century, and didn't see anybody really addressing that issue of how do we prepare teachers for anything that comes up.”

Millions of educators faced the prospect of mastering distance learning. A subsequent tsunami of stories illustrated the profound difficulty in making that effort succeed.

But during the same period, Feistritzer’s business doubled. Teach-Now normally enrolled between 80-100 teachers per month. Since March, enrollees increased to more than 200 people from 135 countries.

“When the pandemic hit, our teachers were ready,” Feistritzer said. “We had been training on Zoom and creating ways to teach effectively on it since 2018, and before that, Adobe Connect.”

The fully accredited online instruction site has now changed its name to Moreland University, after Moreland, Ky., where Feistritzer’s mother and grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse.

The 79-year-old followed in their footsteps, teaching high school math and science in a Benedictine high school, then spending decades creating and selling education businesses.

“I would say the biggest thing I got out of being a Catholic nun for 12 years was discipline and focus,” Feistritzer offered. “It's paid off in many ways because I can concentrate, stay on task, don't give up, and we need those things in this environment, more than ever.”

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