NewsGreat Falls News


Here's what remote learning looks like for teachers in Great Falls

Posted at 9:34 AM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-19 11:34:18-05

For most teachers in Great Falls Public Schools, the day starts with emails — lots of emails.

"First thing in the morning, at about 7 o'clock, I start checking," said Nicole Heintzelman, an eighth grade math teacher at East Middle School. "Of course, I'm checking it all night long."

Mary Wren, who also teaches eighth grade math at East, said the stream of questions from students and other teachers is constant.

“You’re constantly checking your email,” she said.

All semester long, teachers like Wren and Heintzelman have toggled between remote and in-person learning. But on Monday, GFPS moved fully online (again) until November 30, due to a high percentage of quarantined students and staff. As coronavirus cases in Cascade County continue to surge and hospitals reach capacity, the lives of teachers, students and parents have started to look a lot like they did last semester, when remote learning was the norm. Many don’t have much hope of going back to normal soon.

“This could get extended, and if it does, what does that look like?” Heintzelman said. District officials are still planning on returning to in-person learning on November 30, as scheduled.

After checking their emails, most remote learning teachers spend the day checking platforms like Google Classroom, Moodle, PowerSchool and Planbook. Many, like Christine Baroch, an AP English teacher at Great Falls High, also hold classes over Zoom or Google Meet. She and her students got a head start on the latest shift to remote learning after she contracted the coronavirus about two weeks ago.

“I taught my classes by being home at my kitchen table,” she said, “and my students would remote in at my classroom.”

While she was quarantined, she had one goal: not to lose momentum.

“It was really important to me that I still teach, even though I wasn’t feeling great,” she said. Over videochat, Baroch and her students would do a lot of question-and-answer sessions and reading out loud.

Baroch initially tested negative for the virus, but was starting to notice a pattern: she kept getting sick on the weekends. When she went back in to see the school nurse, the nurse said her experience was becoming common among teachers.

“By the weekends, we were all just kind of collapsing,” she said.