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Great Falls teacher and mother of five reflects on the challenges of remote learning

Posted at 5:01 PM, May 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-23 18:18:42-04

The Bohannon house in Great Falls gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘homeroom.’

“We jokingly refer to this as the Bohannon academy of fine young men,” said Rachel Bohannon, an English teacher at Great Falls High School.

Like educators across Montana. Rachel found herself scrambling to develop a remote learning curriculum in mid-March when it was announced that due to Covid-19, schools would be temporarily closed.

That temporary order eventually became permanent for the current academic year.

Rachel and her husband Rob, have five boys. 17-year old Chance is a senior at GFH. There’s also 14-year old Blake, a middle schooler, a pair of elementary students, 11-year old Jack and 9-year old Grayson. The family also has 2-year old Zayden, who Rachel says has been watching a lot of television during this time.

Rachel, who grew up in Great Falls and has been teaching for nearly 23 years, never dreamed her living room would double as a classroom.

“I’m expected to teach during the day, but I’m also expected to help all these kids get their work done during the day, so it’s quite a procedure,” said Rachel.

She said the adjustment to remote learning was rough at first, from both the parenting and teaching perspective. Her family is fortunate to have enough devices for their group of six. Others aren’t so lucky.

“Some are sharing electronics with their siblings, so they aren’t available at a certain time to do a zoom meeting,” said Rachel. “I have other kids who work during the day so they do their homework at night. I have kids that will send me things at two or three in the morning.”

Her teaching day consists of grading, preparation, and talking to parents.

“I’ve contacted more parents probably during this time than I have in almost 20 years of teaching,” said Rachel. “If this had happened when I started teaching, I don’t know if we could have done it.”

It’s also meant more communication with students.

“I might be teaching the same thing 30 times, instead of doing it one time to 30 students,” said Rachel who teaches five classes with more than 20 students per class.

Her husband works at Benefis. His schedule consists of seven days on and seven days off. He too has taken on a teaching role during his off time, focusing on third grader Grayson who gets most of his schoolwork through packets.

“He needs a lot more sit-down help where the other two need to ask me questions here and so on his days off he’s Grayson’s teacher,” said Rachel. “On the days he’s not there Grayson and I struggle. Those tend to be my longer days because giving up most of my day to try and help my son.”

Rachel’s oldest son, Chance, will graduate from Great Falls High this year. Chance works as a landscaper during the day and does his homework at night. Rachel, who happens to be the GFH Senior Class Adviser, says it’s disappointing he is missing out on some senior class milestones but she’s glad he will get to go through a graduation ceremony.

Although the learning style is different, she says most parents have been supportive. And so is she.

“I know my kids are being challenged,” said Rachel. “They’re still learning new skills thanks to zoom, they’re still learning some new math strategies. Even during this quarantine their teachers are still doing things to make them feel special and make them feel wanted and to teach them.”

Despite the unusual workload, Rachel keeps her sense of humor as little Zayden cleans the floor with a toy vacuum cleaner

“We have family consumer sciences, we do it all,” said Rachel.

She also says the pandemic is ironic since she teaches dystopian literature.

“The big joke with my sophomores is wow, who knew this year was a research year versus anything because I’ve prepared you for dystopia,” said Rachel.

Rachel says she understands the frustration of other parents and is ready for this unusual school year to be over.

“By the end of the day my head hurts, my eyes hurt because I’ve spent all day on one of these devices,” said Rachel.

Rachel says if remote learning becomes the new normal, schools need to be ready to transition to the online method quicker and teachers need to become more computer savvy.