GREAT FALLS — As Montana continues vaccinating its residents, teachers are remembering a school year that challenged them and their students in ways they never could have expected. Some are also taking the opportunity to remember things that used to be so normal before COVID-19.
“I think that a major concern was probably just what protocols that we’d be following, with the adaptation of the classrooms and spreading desks out and seeing how that would flow throughout the day,” said Dennis Hogan, a fourth-grade teacher at Riverview Elementary School. “I wasn’t concerned about health necessarily, I was more concerned about how the flow of the school would work.”
Hogan will get his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine next week, which puts him relatively close to some immunity, and, he hopes, some normalcy.
“I’m optimistic and I’m really hoping that next year we’re going to be back to normal and the whole routine will be like it was before,” he said.
Hogan’s fellow Riverview teacher, Kami Bramlette, is a couple days ahead of him. She got her second dose a little over a week ago. She recalls what it was like preparing for this year back in Summer 2020. Teachers already do a ton of prep coming into a normal school year. Preparing to teach during a pandemic didn’t make things any easier.
“It was definitely interesting at the beginning of the year because we weren’t really sure what to expect, we weren’t sure if we were going to go remote, we weren’t sure if we were going to be in school,” Bramlette explained. “So, it definitely took a lot of researching and coming up with different things to do in the classroom that we wouldn’t maybe normally do, and so it did take a little bit of work to get prepared.”
While this school year has undoubtedly had its fair share of challenges, it’s also not hard for teachers to point to some of their favorite moments. Sure, they’ll always remember masks, social distancing, and remote learning. But the perseverance shown not only by their peers, but also by their students, is something they say they’ll carry with them as a reminder of what people can do when they work together.
“I feel like this year, as a school, we’ve really come very close to the community,” said Bramlette. “We’ve worked very well with them, so it’s been really great working with the group of students I have, and they have really excelled and they have definitely exceeded my expectations as far as what they are capable of doing in the classroom.”
As for challenges, though, a lot of it stretches back to the preparations teachers had to make coming into the year. Unsure whether to prepare for in-person or remote learning, having to change with little notice, and introducing new, never-before-used methods into their teaching and curriculum are just a few of the things that Great Falls teachers have had to deal with this year. Hogan pointed to his use of group work as a key indicator. In a typical year, he says he likes to put students in groups and utilize small, cooperative student interactions in the classroom. This year, thanks to social distancing and occasional remote learning, that’s been tough to do.
As more and more Montana residents and teachers get their COVID-19 vaccines, one of the things Hogan looks forward to most is those smiles. “Normally when you’re teaching, you get to see faces, and you can see reactions in faces, you can see smiles of students,” he said. “The thing I’ll remember most is that they’re covered up all year, and so even today I keep telling my students, I’m really not sure what you look like because I don’t see you with your mask off.”