Virtual Teacher Interview: grade 7 math/science, Toronto Canada

Guys. GUYS. This is big. I have a special treat for you for today’s interview. We’re hearing from Pamela Depooter, a grade 7 math and science teacher in Toronto, Canada (yes, we have to say “grade 7” not “7th grade” because that’s what the Canadians say!). What Pam doesn’t know is that she’s been my secret teacher idol for the past 10 years. Pam is an incredibly dedicated and creative teacher.

I met Pam right after my high school graduation, when I attended the Perimeter Institute’s International Summer School for Young Physicists (ISSYP) – yes, incredibly nerdy, I know. Pam was the head chaperone for the program and did an outstanding job helping high school students from all over the world bond, learn a ton of science, and make life-long friendships. The following summer I joined the program again as a chaperone and I learned SO much from Pam. Also, I think she is super-human because I swear I never saw her sleep once! A few years later, Pam was also a part of my Teach for America application, so I need to thank her for that, too! She’s awesome. Read her interview and you’ll see why!

Julia: Tell me about your school and your role. What are the demographics of your school? How many students do you have? How many staff? What grades do you teach? What subjects? How long have you been there?


  • Grade 7 Math/Science
  • Bloorlea M.S. Toronto District School Board
  • 63 total: 31 and 32 in the two classes
  • School: 280 students, 15-ish staff
  • I’ve been teaching for 14 years, at this school for 2 years

Julia: In what ways was your school prepared for distance learning?

Pam: As a school – we were not. As a classroom – I was!  Students were on Google Classroom already so it was an easy transfer to posting all work there and then adding our virtual meetings. I also was already all digital with my grade book and lessons (SMART notebook) because my lessons all take place using an interactive SMART board in the classroom – really simple to translate that to online learning. I was also TEAM TEACHING with an AMAZING teaching partner. The only way my classroom online was a success was because of our tight collaboration (which was also happening in the classroom btw). I also had a parent email list ready to go – made communication easier once the online learning began. As a school board – students who needed devices were mailed TDSB devices to use free of chargeTDSB IT was opened up to parents and students for consultation about everything from hardware to software questions. 

Julia: In what ways was your school unprepared for distance learning?

Pam: Some teachers did not have an online classroom set up prior to the school closure – or they were set up but they didn’t ensure that all students were on the roster. Teachers did not have parent email lists. School leadership was not prepared to lead the staff – we were basically on our own with no guidance or overarching structure – this worked out absolutely fine for me and my teaching partner –  but I know some of my colleagues, and then as a result the students, struggled with continuation of their learning. 

Julia: What does your typical school day and week look like now?

Pam: (See class schedule below) For me – watching an 18 month old all day while trying to keep an eye on incoming email between 9am and 4pm, planning lessons during naps and after bed time, virtual meetings with “Bubble Guppies” playing in the background to help keep my little one entertained while I meet with the kids, video off during staff meetings so I can feed my little guy lunch.

Julia: What platform do you use to teach (Zoom, Google Classroom, etc.)? What are the pros and cons of that platform?

Pam: Mostly Zoom – Loved it as a platform. 

Settings/best features:

  • mute all
  • screen share (host can control!)
  • waiting room
  • removal of students
  • breakout rooms
  • rename students
  • advanced options give you so much control over the meeting. 

Sometimes Google Meets. SO MANY CON’S  –  Has none of the great things zoom has. These are possible to enable but TDSB did not allow staff to access these advanced options. We had students on TDSB devices that were not able to access Zoom so our work around was to screen share our meeting from Zoom into Google Meets. It worked out nicely. 

Julia: What’s the funniest thing that happened so far during distance learning?

Pam: We’ve been enjoying some moments together during our spirit week tasks. Sharing baby pictures, posting crazy futuristic science structures we’ve built, watched high quality video and audio creations made by students. The most enjoyable moments though tend to be the off topic debates that begin in our Zoom Chat’s and then work their way into the conversation – Starbucks is better than Tim’s, Never eat at A &W, Hamsters are the best pet, Milk before cereal or cereal before milk?  These have been the best moments. 

Julia: How do you think kids are handling this time emotionally? What should other teachers and schools prioritize?

Pam: Team Teaching should be a priority. I’m not sure I would have survived trying to teach all of the subjects remotely. Having the subjects split between two teachers and having the class size bigger worked out very well for us. Yes we had 63 students total. With physical classroom space not an issue, Zoom meetings with larger numbers were very easily handled. 
I think kids are struggling to figure out how to learn independently. Grade 7’s are 13 years old. This would be their first real year of such independent learning. I’m interested to see how this translates to future years. I think the kids engaged had home support and somewhat of a schedule to follow. I think the kids who were not engaged had a lot of other things to deal with. Some of the students were able to show up to our meetings with a baby sibling on their knee – I’m sure they were on baby duty during those moments to free up a parent for their own work. 

Julia: What do you think will happen in the fall? Is full-time distance learning the future of education?

Pam: This fall schools will be open until there’s a confirmed COVID case in the building. At this point the school will be closed for 14 days until it reopens again. This is my prediction. I don’t think they’ll be able to change class sizes. My upcoming class is 30 students and I imagine there will be more enrolled. There is no way to social distance in the classroom space with that many students. I don’t think they’ll have a 15 student maximum limit set-up ready to go. Studies show that kids tend to be asymptomatic and therefore are not spreaders – if this is the case then arguably there’s no real need for social distancing in a school. I do think that distance learning is going to be incorporated more into the learning of students as early as grade 7. It just makes sense. 

Pam was already set up really well digitally for her classes, which allowed students and parents to be more prepared for her class’s transition to distance learning. It also sounds like having a team teacher was also a huge help in this transition. Lots of schools have been talking about hybrid models for the fall (teachers at school with 1/2 the students, classes would be streamed onto Zoom for the other 1/2 of the students) and I actually think the way this would work best is if all teachers could team teach. That way one teacher could focus on the students in the physical classroom and the other could control the tech. (Not going to lie, the idea of hybrid teaching by myself sounds like a nightmare.) Guess we’ll just have to see what happens in a month or two!

Oh and because I know you’re curious, here’s a pic of me and Pam from 9 years ago (I’m the one with the bow, she’s all the way to the right). Like our outfits!?

Proud to see where I’ve landed all these years later,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s