Thank You for Muting!

It’s been 6 weeks of teaching elementary music online. There have been incredible highs and crushing lows. There’s also been a lot of middle ground. I worked SO HARD to get to a good place mentally to accept this online teaching world back in April/May. After the stay at home order was announced and it was decided that our schools were not going back in person for the remainder of Spring 2020, I threw myself into planning for the “worst” and hoping for the “best.” Those words are in quotation marks because in this current situation they’re very subjective words. I have colleagues who think that digital learning is the worst case scenario and will ONLY be happy when we return full time in person. I also have colleagues who think going back in person is the worst case scenario and have either chosen to work at this new online school that our district is offering so that they can make sure they will not be forced back in the classroom until they feel safe. I…have gotten very used to smiling and nodding and trying to make people feel like their feelings and opinions are valid, even when they drastically differ from my own. I am grateful to be teaching online right now because when we went online in the Spring, I wasn’t teaching. We were in survival mode and our district had us working in groups to plan and record lessons in grade level teams. I didn’t get to teach my students. I rarely was able to log on to say hi to them. We were told “less is more” and I respected that. I hated it, but I respected it. I put all my effort into figuring out how to be a successful online teacher should the need arise. I planned out potential lessons, debated whether to work from home or from school, figured out how to work Google Classroom and SeeSaw, and just generally prepared for anything. So when it was announced that APS would begin Fall 2020 with virtual learning, I was prepared and positive. I was BEYOND excited to get to SEE my students and teach them, even if it was through a computer. I was excited for the new ways I could connect with them and get work from them/to them. I looked forward to being creative with my lesson plans and materials used so that I could reach all students and not leave anyone out. I planned how to be inclusive, engaging, and how I would give grace and practice flexibility. I was ready. What I wasn’t ready for was all the people who were NOT ready. So many of my coworkers and friends were really against online learning and are against it even more so now that we’ve been doing it for over a month. They have very negative attitudes (which they’re completely entitled to) and are wildly unhappy (which, again, is valid “you feel what you feel and your feelings are real” as Sven says in Frozen 2). These are people I care about that I want to help, but they are sucking every ounce of joy and positivity out of me. To be fair, I am sure that I am annoying them with my can-do attitude and my enthusiasm also. It’s hard all around. They can’t change my mind, I can’t change theirs…we’re all stuck in our ways. I’ve had to distance myself from some of my friends and coworkers and that was not fun. Some meetings are almost unbearable because of the tension. These people, my friends and colleagues, have taken up arms for the opposite side. These are the same people who aren’t worried about the virus for various reasons. They are entitled to their beliefs and their opinions…but here’s mine: This virus scares me.

There. I said it. Judge me all you want. I have a toddler to worry about, not to mention 2 high risk parents. I avoided my parents (and my child as much as possible) like the plague when I had the FLU and to me, this is much worse than the flu. I want to stay healthy and I want to keep my family healthy. I personally limit my exposure, only going to the store when absolutely warranted and ordering my groceries for pickup unless I am in dire need of something right away, not going out to eat, properly wearing a mask whenever I do go out to the store or wherever, and not gathering in groups with friends (not that I have many of those). I am taking this very seriously and I’ve been told I’m living in fear because of it. I have had friends who have told me directly that I am being ridiculous because I wear a mask “because they aren’t even effective” and because I’m still keeping my social circle very small. At the beginning of the pandemic I was dismissed and ridiculed by freaking STRANGERS who intentionally stood very close to me without a mask and very pointedly talked about me to someone else about how stupid I was for wearing a mask and using my hand sanitizer in a store because “it doesn’t even protect the person wearing it.” I could go on and on and on about the ways I feel I’ve been mistreated for doing what I think is best, for choosing to protect myself and others. The worst part is that I have not done a single thing that negatively affects anyone else. I’ve worn a mask, kept my distance from people, kept my damn hands clean, and upheld my boundaries. There is a threat out there and I am being wary of it and taking steps to avoid it. If I were told that there is a robber loose in my neighborhood, you BET I would live in fear. I would be extra cautious about watching my son and locking our doors/windows. I would worry whenever I left the house. I might get a security system. I would change the way I live my life to keep my family and my valuables safe. To be honest, I’ve lived in fear for quite a bit of my life. I’ve lived in fear of failure. I’ve lived in fear of car accidents or being fired or losing those I love. Some people think living in fear is not living, but, uhm…I’m still breathing and smiling and enjoying my life in spite of my fears. I think that’s considered living. Sarcasm aside, here’s the thing-fear is a natural part of being human. People who do not feel fear are typically viewed as psychopaths. I’ve watched enough Criminal Minds to know that you can suppress your feelings of fear and find ways to cope with it so that it doesn’t affect your life, but fear is part of being human. Fear is an instinct we have to keep us safe. Yes, one could argue that sometimes fear keeps us from reaching our true potential or following our dreams and truly living life and we should try working through it in those cases. But right now? I’m still living life. I weigh the risk before I go out, taking into account that no everyone sees life the way I do. I digress. The point is, I am from the camp that is grateful to be teaching online. Here are some gems that I would have missed out on if we were in person right now.

-Having recordings of students’ voices singing or speaking their assignments
-Getting to see pets and siblings (some of whom I have taught in the past or am currently teaching) during class
-Hearing parents’ voices as they help their students with their recorded homework for music
-Having the opportunity to connect with and communicate with and acknowledge students’ voices in a different way during class (that chat box can be really useful)
-Having the opportunity to allow students to engage in different ways according to ability and comfort level
-Getting to teach without wearing shoes
-Being able to incorporate a little bit more choice from students in lessons because it’s easier to gather and sift through student choice data when it’s online
-Being able to mute students when their impulse control is out of control
-Allowing students to see how competent AND incompetent I am when it comes to technology haha
-Allowing students to give me grace and giving students grace in a whole new way
-Having immediate recordings of my teaching on my computer to easily access and reflect on
-Easiest attendance of my life (Google sends me a list of all my participants, including when they logged on and off)
-Ability to decompress between classes without having to lock my door or put on a pretend smile for anyone in the hallway
-Feeling comfortable allowing my students to go to the bathroom whenever they need it because I don’t have to worry about them wandering the halls or taking their cell phones to record TikTok dances in the bathroom (YES that happened at our school).
-Having to communicate with my coworkers in a new format makes me more careful with my word choice and tone of writing
-Later school start time allows me to go for short walks in the morning
-Plenty of blocked prep time makes grading and planning much easier than randomly spread out prep time
-I’ve been able to easily meet with and communicate with my 2 mentees thanks to Google Meet
-I’ve been reminded of just how supportive and awesome my administration is throughout this whole ordeal
-I’ve gotten to learn new platforms (Google Classroom, SeeSaw, Flipgrid, etc.)
-I’ve had the opportunity to teach tips and tricks I’ve learned to my colleagues
-I’m able to have my help hour going in the background (muted and camera off) so I can run around doing whatever I need to do to prepare for the rest of the day/week while still being available if a student needs to log on and talk to me
-I’ve learned how to utilize my breathing more, especially when a student is struggling to unmute or I am struggling to unmute myself
-I’ve gotten fairly good at using two computers while teaching a class
-I’ve adapted to not being able to play normal games, utilize instruments, or hear students sing as a class
-I’ve been able to assign work that most students find interesting if not easy enough to do
-I’ve found that I’m capable of sitting on my butt for hours on end and not going completely insane
-I’ve found ways to fill my cup and recharge in this new form of teaching
-I’ve learned from colleagues
-I’ve been judicious with my time and not allowed myself to get sucked into the “work ALL THE TIME” mentality
-I’ve found weird ways to compliment students like “thank you for staying muted!” or “thank you for unmuting to talk to me” or “thank you for using the chat tool appropriately”
-My husband cleaned the guest room so I could use it as a home office
and more than I can think of right now at 3 in the morning.

I have no idea what the future holds for me when it comes to teaching in person or hybrid or online, but I am grateful for my job in whatever form it comes. I love teaching music and I love rising to the occasion to show students that I will do whatever it takes to be their music teacher. I love them. I love my job. Even if I have to say “thank you for muting” about a zillion times a day.

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