I intended on doing another post for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month this week, but as I contemplated what to write about, what activities to give you, I thought that isn’t what you need right now. It’s not what I need right now. What we DO need, is an end. THE end. So instead, I have written something we need instead. The End: An Eulogy for the 2020-2021 school year.

When the pandemic hit last March, we thought it might be short lived. We had heard of some far-away issues, and a few cases had even reached the US when I traveled to the OAKE National Conference in Portland. Already feeling burnt out from too much work the previous summer which ended with a trip to school the day after I returned home from my level 2 courses (also in Portland), I spent some of my time at the March conference wandering around outside instead of attending sessions. I skipped PD to instead walk around Portland, eat ramen, get hipster coffee, and spend far too much money at Powell’s Books. All of those books were for my classroom.

Then we came back. On the flight home, I stressed a little bit about wiping down my tray table after seeing the guy behind me do the same. I landed on Sunday, had festival with my middle schoolers on Tuesday, and by Thursday I was throwing music into their hands because I thought we would be out just those few weeks before we could come back to practice for our end of the year concert. But I was wrong. And so our school year ended in a way we did not anticipate, but we started to hope for the coming year to be “back to normal”.

And then

More cases.
More shutdowns.
Mask mandates and people refusing to wear them.
Out of an abundance of caution.
PPE for teachers that was what you would need for about half a day.
Cleaning our own rooms to disinfect between classes.
The Colorado study.
Calculating air exchange.
Instrument masks and bags.
The death of recorder programs for the year.
Let’s not talk about band or choir….
6 feet and no space in our actual rooms to make that happen.
Music in desks.
Carts galore.
No singing.
No shared materials.
Budget slashes.
Online music class.
Or worse – still having to see all the students in the school and risk ourselves and our families while possibly becoming a super-spreader.

Some people took their retirement.
Some of us walked away from programs we built.
Everyone collectively dreaded what education would look like this year.

2020-2021 was a year that no teacher will ever forget. It changed us. This year changed our profession. It certainly changed music classrooms. This year we innovated, adapted, rewrote, flipped, eliminated, researched, and developed more changes to our programs and curriculums than most of us have had to do our entire careers. All while constantly pivoting, dealing with changing mandates, orders, quarantines, and negative feedback.

We gained Bitmoji rooms, play-alongs, a commitment to more listening and literature, and embraced the chance to have more diversity in our music history lessons. We adapted dances, games, and found ways create individual instrument bags. All the drumming we could stand. We had TikToks, Youtube videos, Insta stories, Facebook groups, and blogs like mine to help us. I always hope that you could use what I could give. We got burnt out on virtual PD. Some of these things will absolutely stay with us for the foreseeable future. Some we will rejoice that we can skip them for awhile and bring them out only once in a while. Our sub plans will never look the same.

Music is not designed to be all technical, history lessons, and understanding of the concepts that we aren’t practicing. No matter your ‘method’, music involves making noise and experimentation. It’s messy, loud, and full of mistakes that make us better for having made them. Music is joy. Music is collective. Community. The 2020-2021 school year forced us to give up much of what makes it community. Yes we taught music. But we didn’t get to keep our heart. Most kids aren’t going to sit back at 40 and think about the great music history lesson we taught them (unless it’s that person who SPEAKS to them). They are going to remember the joy. The performance, the game, the fun they had when they didn’t know they were learning. Lots of things we struggled to have this year, or couldn’t incorporate at all.

We did our best. We are enough. What you did this year is what you NEEDED. If it was tossing out everything you did before, if it was adapting, if it was ditching all concepts for activities that keep the students engaged and on task while giving them a mental break they desperately needed this year.

If you walked away and put yourself first.

We survived teaching in a pandemic the way we needed. As teachers, we will be better for in no matter what we did to survive. Give yourself some grace. Step away. Put that stuff down on the last day of school and leave it be. Walk away from work and give yourself the break you deserve. All we did last summer was figure out how to completely change our entire career’s worth of knowledge to fit new needs. We don’t need new, and we will be able to bring back old as vaccines open for the younger set.

When someone dies, no one rejoices. They celebrate what they brought to this life, their mark on the world, and how they changed our lives. 2020-2021 changed our lives and we can celebrate those changes.

Today I celebrate the loss of identity.

Many of you know I stepped out of the classroom because of my anxiety about the virus and my pre-existing conditions (a repaired congenital heart defect and asthma). Since I have started teaching, my dad, my grandma, both of my aunts, and my uncle have passed, and those were just the family closest to me. My only sister died in 1997, and I have no first cousins. The fear that I would bring the virus home to the only two members of my close family that I have left – my husband and my mom – was more of my worry than myself.

I stepped away from a job I loved, a band program I founded on a cart with no budget, and a workaholic mindset that had me working from 7 am to 5/6pm every night. I stepped away from an identity that I create for myself. Music teacher, band director, choir director, marching band director, musical director, yearbook coordinator. Much of this year, I spent feeling guilt that I stepped away when many of you were still in the classroom, that I didn’t force myself to put up with hybrid, no singing, and all the pivots that 2020-2021 brought despite my anxiety.

For a long time, I believed that I would never retire because my middle school band director died 9 months after his retirement and college choir director 8 months after her retirement. In the last year, I have since decided work cannot become that important that I spend my whole life working, despite the joy and importance of music, to die within a year of retirement. Instead, I choose to find a work life balance so that when retirement does come, the loss of identity doesn’t come with it. No matter the profound effect of my teachers on my life, this is their last lesson for me. And that is the lesson that 2020-2021 gave me. It took a pandemic to force me to to look at my choices, what made up my identity, and how that teacher identity is not all I am.

So raise your cup with me and toast to the things that the 2020-2021 school year brought us, the lasting effects of being a teacher in a pandemic, and the good things that came from it.

Hearts on fire, minds on ice

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