#SubLife: 15 weeks of teaching virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic

by Brandon Summers | December 19, 2020

I swore to myself in 2018 that I would never accept a vacancy teaching position again. Despite the pay being low, teaching full-time takes energy away from my life as a working musician. Unfortunately, this year would prove to be the worst that I’ve ever had— the worst that many have had. The last that many will have. A global health crisis was brewing abroad in late 2019, but likely arrived in Las Vegas after the city hosted it’s largest, and most profitable, international trade show in January 2020— the Consumer Electronic Show (CES). From seemingly nowhere, the coronavirus COVID-19 began to dominate national and local news. Cancellations of gigs began pouring into my email inbox in early March. A week or so later, I would be unemployed for the next six months.

September 2020
I finally got a call from “the district” (Clark County School District) and knew that opportunity had come knocking. Orchestra vacancy for a middle school. This was something I had done before, so I had a general sense of what to expect (e.g. the impending chaos of figuratively trying to catch a moving train). But the looming isolation of teaching in an empty room to a class of faceless preteens was new. Making the decision to equip every student with an instrument of their own was another challenge that resulted in lots of time at school off the clock. I’m not quite sure if I regret it yet. Educators are exploited enough for unpaid labor as is; but my intent was to make my life easier in the future. I didn’t want orchestra to be a book-heavy class, and what’s the point in learning music without playing it. Also, I’m not very knowledgeable about music despite my ability to perform it. (That’s a discussion for another day)

October 2020
Self-doubt, anxiety, and a few minor meltdowns. I’m way in over my head. I can’t read bass clef or alto clef. I just got a crash course in Google Meet, Canvas, Infinite Campus, GoGuardian a few weeks prior and now it’s recommended that I add SmartMusic to the digital toolkit! I’m being bombarded with emails from staff and students. I’m not sleeping well. I’m irritable and perpetually tired. I miss having control over my time. I miss doing gigs. I want to quit but I can’t afford to be unemployed again. This is so unfair.

November 2020
My school finally hires an instructional aide! Another human is there with me (physically distanced of course).

Local, state, and national elections are here; and suddenly, my students have become experts on electoral politics (they only care about the results of the presidential election of course).

Cases are spiking. Teachers must now work from home for the rest of the calendar year.

I don’t feel like quitting as much but I’m still exhausted. Thanksgiving break: Please get here in a hurry! I need five consecutive days off.

Teaching remotely from home

December
I’m still working hard and the aide is a big help, but I’m out of gas.

Conclusion
Teaching via computer sucks. Period. It’s hard for teachers, admin, parents, and most importantly the students. It’s lonely and antisocial. No one wants to sit in front of a computer for hours a day pretend to maintain attentiveness. I don’t blame the kids for having their cameras off– especially the ones who live in noisy, chaotic environments.

The alternatives suck too. In person instruction is dumb and risky for all. Blended learning or hybrid learning is well intended but also risky and will end in sudden closures (as it already has).

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