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Face to Face: Building bonds with students harder when teaching by Internet

The Missoula Current has launched a new video series, Face to Face with Flora Lloyd, asking area businesses and professionals how the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way they conduct business, and how it has forced them to adjust. This is the third installment featuring Missoula middle school teacher Elizabeth Fessler.

With a dose of perseverance born from necessity, Missoula’s classrooms have moved to a digital platform over the past month – far from the confines of a traditional school building.

For Elizabeth Fessler, a middle school teacher in Missoula, the shift hasn’t been perfect, but as time marches on, it’s getting a little easier.

“We’ve had to adapt in just changing the way we do things – delivering content and the use of technology in a way that’s different,” said Fessler. “Some of us had a little tech integration, but not in any way what we’re being asked to do now.”

Fessler has served as a teacher for 15 years and is accustomed to the face-to-face interactions with her students. That became difficult after the state closed all K-12 public schools in Montana to slow the spread of the virus.

Building bonds with her students is part of the job, though the sterility of the digital environment can make that harder to achieve.

“Teachers at the middle school level, our main job is relationship building,” said Fessler. “We work hard to get to know the kids, to establish trust and let them know we care about them. From there we can teach them. Maintaining those relationships in this type of format is a little more difficult.”

Despite the challenges, Fessler believes the district has been supportive. Teachers are working hard to reach those students who may not have the same opportunities as their peers.

“We are getting better at it as we progress,” she said. “Just by continuing to see what’s working and not working, how the kids are responding and if their not, what can we do. But I think the district has been awesome.”

Face to Face: Hellgate language teacher Lisa Moser adapts to online instruction