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Connecting with students: Bozeman teachers continue remote teaching for rest of year

Posted at 6:54 AM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 09:00:50-04

BOZEMAN — Bozeman and Butte school board leaders made the decision to not return to classes for the rest of the academic year.

But they can and will continue remote learning.

Since COVID-19 came to Gallatin County, getting out computers has been a part of “normal life” when it comes to learning.

But with school campuses closed for the rest of the academic year in Bozeman, now they are getting used to it at a whole new level.

“It’s a mixed set of emotions,” says Megan Motley, who has taught English at Bozeman High School for four years. “It was overwhelming but it was really inspiring just to see how people were to just kind of lean into it and learn these new skills and what’s the best way that we can teach our students and help our students.”

Motley is one of many teachers at Bozeman High (and beyond) that are in the same boat -- or laptop screen.

“Even trying to figure out what our needs were and then how we were going to meet those needs [was hard],” Motley says. “We did it in a week’s time so that our students could hit the ground running that next Monday and be ready to learn.”

Motley says she remembers an early indicator of when things could get complicated with remote learning in the form of sign language.

“One of the first emails I got was from one of our sign language interpreters and she reached out to me,” Motley says. “She said okay, I’ve got a student who is in Government and he’s got to be able to watch the teacher’s recorded lecture. She had to be able to sign and add that, plus closed captions to the lecture so that the student could access the material.”

Teachers like Motley prepared to make the entire transition, in part, during the week of spring break.

“It was so awesome to be a part of but there were times where we were just like what are we even doing?” Motley says. “Like, how do we do this?”

That involved breaking down team meetings through video conferencing into lessons, then lessons into more videos and packets.

In most circumstances, students then send videos back.

Students also have engaged in individual assignments and group meetings, from elementary age all the way up to seniors in high school.

“You know, those class discussions that we would have that would take five minutes in a classroom,” Motley says. “Now we are asking that to take place basically over the course of a week. My heart goes out to elementary school teachers. They are amazing.”

But then the news came: no school for the rest of the year.

“It’s been really hard,” Motley says. “I knew it was coming and I expected that would be the outcome but I have just been grieving the loss of this spring. It really feels like we are kind of losing the glory days of the school year. It just feels like we are losing kind of the harvest of all of our hard work but with that said we are not losing it. We still can connect with our kids.”

Motley and her fellow teachers get the occasional heartbreaking video.

That’s when she says going digital hurts the most.

“I’ve had so many students say ‘I never thought I’d ever say this but I really miss school,’” Motley says. “We had a student a couple of years ago that we just kept a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter in our office and he just knew that if you didn’t get breakfast this morning then you can go make a peanut butter sandwich. I don’t have that space right now.”

Both Motley and BHS principal Dan Hill say throughout all of this, the same positivity that once was in the halls is still there.

“There’s a collective understanding at this point of what we already knew which was that we do this job to be around students,” Mills says. “We like students. There’s an incredible energy in a building like this. We like being here. That’s now going to go away.”

“The thing that I can control is the effort that I put in to make sure my students feel seen and heard,” Motley says.

She adds a part of what keeps her going is keeping in mind one fact: the school will be there when this is all over.

“We’ll read lots of books and we’ll write papers and we’ll give speeches and we’ll think deep thoughts and all of the good stuff is going to happen,” Motley says. “Take care of yourselves the best way that you know how right now and we’ll figure out the rest.”

The plans for graduation and end of year events are still being talked about by school leaders.

But Mills says they will happen one way or another.

“We will have end of the year events,” Mills says. “We will have a graduation. They are going to look differently than they’ve looked before but we also want to recognize at the same time that we appreciate the moment that our students are in, especially the seniors.”