How Education is Changing in Great Falls During the Pandemic – A Teacher’s Perspective

“I’m not going to school just for the academics – I wanted to share ideas, to be around people who are passionate about learning.” – Emma Watson love to learn pencil signage on wall near walking manTeaching students face-to face in a classroom during a pandemic is a little like a revolving door. More than ever, each morning begins with uncertainty as to which students, teachers, and other staff will be in attendance that day. During this pandemic, in-classroom teachers have had to rewrite the definition of flexibility and adapt to changes more readily than before. Teachers hope to see all their enrolled students everyday to provide the best education they can. Karen Moullet, 5th grade classroom teacher at Longfellow Elementary, notes,

“The most positive part of teaching has to be having in-person interaction with students, a setting that is exponentially more appreciated than ever since Spring 2020. To put eyes on each student, and hear what they have to say, is essential to understanding their educational, social, and emotional well-being.” 

woman in black long sleeve shirt writing on white paperWith that said, there can be some positives if a school needs to close temporarily, as GFPS did in November. Opportunities to have better, in-depth conversations structured around instructional plans for in-person or remote learning with colleagues are more available. Mrs. Moullet points out,

woman sitting on sofa with MacBook Air“Education at our school has been moving in fast forward since August, and this brief “gift of time” to brainstorm and plan has been refreshing.  That is not to say we have been kicking back, however. Quite the opposite is true!  Teachers’ energies are shuffled onto different plates currently. Staff is a bit more “seasoned” in remote learning after this past spring, which is helpful going forward, and I believe parents and students are more aware of the expectations for learning this second time around.”

man in white and black checked dress shirt holding white printer paperBut the biggest positive for Karen during the short closure of Longfellow during November was seeing her students’ smiles albeit on a computer screen through Zoom. When students are in-person, they are required to wear masks most of the day. Mrs. Moullet fondly states, “ Masking hides these sweet responses in the classroom, as it does other nonverbal communication.  Smiles lift us all up at a time when we need it most!” 

girl wearing black headphonesTeaching in general, can have its fair share of challenges, but maybe not as unique as when a pandemic hits. Longfellow has worked through some first quarter challenges with grace. Opening a brand new building presents expected changes in routines, but COVID routines have been a daily challenge, not just for Longfellow, but the GFPS district as a whole.

Change in habits comes slowly to some student populations, as well as society in general.”

man in black jacket standing on gray concrete floor“What was personally difficult when we sent our students home with packets on Friday, November 13, was the realization of not knowing when I would see my students again. I’m certain many of them were feeling that apprehension as well. When we said good-bye that typical Friday back in March, no one had a clue we would not be seeing each other come Monday, “ Karen says. Thankfully, Karen welcomed her students back into the classroom on November 30th with hopes that will continue.

woman in gray sweater sitting on chair reading booksAs anyone present in a school building during the day can attest, daily schedules in each classroom are full and detailed down to the minute. As the bell rings at the end of the day, sometimes it comes just too fast! Each day is packed with learning and interaction. Teachers always bemoan the fact that there is never enough time to meet all the requirements of each grade’s curricula. Before and after school meetings round out the day.

woman in white and black stripe long sleeve shirt using laptop computer on brown wooden tableDuring school closure, the schedule is just as packed. At Longfellow, staff met daily via Zoom, instead of weekly during the November closure. Mrs. Moullet saw that as a positive. She reflects, “Checking in with each other more often was a positive. I spent much more time on the phone, checking in with families asking…. Is everyone well? Might they have a need for daily lunch distribution? Are there technology glitches that are hindering student on-line learning? Are there questions regarding learning expectations?”  Karen says, “The time between phone calls and Google Meet sessions allowed me to catch up on classroom projects that fell by the wayside of daily demands during the first quarter of in-person instruction, as well as research ideas to better prepare for instruction going forward into the unknown.”

woman in black cardigan wearing white maskAs GFPS in-classroom teachers juggle three types of instruction: in-classroom instruction, school closure remote learning, packet instruction for students who can’t be in class nor enrolled in the district’s remote learning platform; most would agree that in-class instruction is the ideal learning environment for students.

people sitting on chairs inside roomAs Mrs. Moullet so passionately expresses,

“ It is important that the public is aware that remote learning will never hold best instructional practice for teachers or the majority of students. A personal relationship is the foundation for learning. Teachers need students and students need teachers. That human interaction is key to understanding each other.

woman in white floral shirt wearing black gogglesUnfortunately, this pandemic has set in motion a gap in learning that will take years to overcome. Rigor in the classroom will be emphasized more than ever before. Our leaders, staff, families and students will need to prepare to step up, roll sleeves up, and amp up the business of education. For the sake of us all. For the sake of our country’s future.”