Well, here it is—the week of Christmas, and the beginning of my glorious, two-week Christmas break. If this blog post feels a bit like I’m rubbing in readers’ faces the bloated excess of education’s vacation time, my apologies. I will note, though, that if you spent hours everyday as a surrogate parent to other people’s children, you, too, would want two weeks off at Christmas.
Indeed, I would argue that more professions deserve more time off at Christmastime. Naturally, I realize that many folks save up their hard-earned vacation days to do just that: enjoy a week or so with their families by the yule log, sipping eggnog and hot cocoa in their festive Cosby sweaters. What I’m advocating for, though, is a widespread cultural movement—maybe even to the point of declaring some federal holidays—in the days leading up to and/or immediately after Christmas. It always blows my mind when people work a full day—even a measly half-day—on Christmas Eve.
It’s that time of year when Christmas music dominates the airwaves and our collective consciousness. It’s always a tad irksome to me how folks will complain about Christmas music during the Christmas season. Of course you’re going to hear Mariah Carey every fifteen minutes—it comes with the territory. Naturally, let’s at least get through Halloween (and, preferably, Thanksgiving Day), but at least make an attempt at getting into the Christmas spirit.
Last year I wrote extensively about Christmas carols. Indeed, one of my many unfinished projects is to compile a small book containing the stories of some of our most cherished carols (I want to write a similar book about hymns, too). I play and sing a lot of carols this time of year: I’m a music teacher. Perennial favorites—and the selections my classes are currently playing—are “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “O Holy Night.”
We’re back to distance learning today after a positive case of The Virus, and since it’s the day before Thanksgiving Break—historically the biggest blow-off day of the school year—my administration decided to play it safe and declare today a distance learning day. As such, I took the assignment derived from The Story of 100 Great Composers and ported it to my high school music classes. Those classes will share about their composers today.
It’s back again—Thanksgiving Week! For many of us—especially those of us in the cushy racket known as “education”—it’s scarcely a week at all, just two days of relaxed, stately learning before five straight days of loafing and turkey-filled indolence.
I’m kicking off the laziness early with a throwback post to last year’s Thanksgiving Week—a post entitled, appropriately, “Thanksgiving Week!” It’s a post that celebrates the insanely short week—and opines for it to become scarcely a workweek at all. I also delved into a discussion about slippery slopes—my favorite logical fallacy that often becomes true—and the necessity for a ten-year moratorium on immigration.
I’ll likely be doing more throwback posts this week as I indulge in some family time and gluttony, but I’ll keep trying to provide top-level italicized commentary for your amusement. Also, we’re just a few days away from 700 days—that’s 100 weeks!—of consecutive posts.
In all seriousness, there is much to be thankful for this year. Even in 2020, a number that has taken on a reputation only slightly less horrifying than the Mark of the Beast, there is much God has done for us. A promising vaccine for The Virus—produced in what must be record time for a vaccine—is surely one such thing for which we should give thanks.
Turn to God in times of trouble, not just when things are going well. Easy to type, hard to live. We’d be all better off, though, if we made the effort to adopt gratitude as our default position.
Yesterday my school ran its second Live Remote Learning Rehearsal Day. We have actually done really well with keeping cases low—almost non-existent. Nevertheless, our administration is taking a proactive approach by testing out remote learning in various scenarios in the event we need to go fully online.
Today my school is doing its second Live Remote Learning Rehearsal days. These are days for us to test out remote learning in the event The Virus necessitates returning to distance learning full-time. Last time teachers tuned in from home while teachers were on-campus. This time, both teachers and students are able to work from home, so I’ve been enjoying a more leisurely morning.
Indeed, I just wrapped up my first morning class of the day, a section of Middle School Music. The students in that section wrote brief, rough draft biographies of renowned composers, and after giving them feedback in-class yesterday, they presented on their composers this morning. It was a good lesson for digital learning, as it required their active participation for the bulk of the class, and they all did quite well.
I’ve assigned composer biographies in music courses for years, but what inspired the assignment this time around was the rediscovery of a charming little book I keep on a small end table in my den: Helen L. Kaufmann’s The Story of One Hundred Great Composers. Published in 1943, the book is a tiny, pocket-sized digest of two-to-three-page entries—arranged chronologically—of composers from the sixteenth century forward.
This school year I began transitioning from teaching a blend of history and music classes towards focusing almost entirely on music. While I still teach a couple of sections of American History, my teaching duties these days consist primarily music classes.
One of the real joys of teaching music—besides the fact that it’s just plain fun—is to see students inspired to create their own music. I have been blessed over the years to witness the musical development of many students, and to hear some of their creations.
During our remote learning rehearsal day earlier this week, I pulled out some old concert footage to show my HS Music Ensemble class, a course that is entirely performance based. That class does not port well to a fully online format, especially to a livestreamed one, as latency is so intense that it makes ensemble performance impossible. Indeed, if that class goes to a fully online format, we’ll have to focus more on solo work and and music theory, which is what we did during distance learning earlier in the spring.
In watching that old concert footage, I was reminded of some wonderful moments in my school’s unorthodox music program’s history. It also reminded me of the power of teaching music to inspire the creation of new works.
Periodically I’ve written updates and progress reports about teaching in The Age of The Virus. My September “Progress Report” detailed the difficulties of teaching in-person and online simultaneously (with most students in class, and a few streaming the class online via Google Meet), while also recording live classes for international students to view at a later time. Technical issues and glitches aside, it creates a number of additional tasks that eat up class and prep time, and overall increase our workloads by at least 20-30%—and often more.
My school’s approach has been to soldier on as long as possible, following stringent health and safety guidelines to keep the school clean. Students are required to wear masks pretty much all day now, which is starting to irk some of them. It really is a struggle to keep them on all day. Students have the option to switch to the live remote platform if they’re ill or have been in contact with someone with The Virus.
So far, that system has worked remarkably well; since the start of classes, we’ve only had (to my knowledge) one student and one staff member test positive for The Virus, and that was after the fourth week of classes. If that incredibly slow spread remains as such, we are far more likely to keep school going with some degree of normality for the duration of the academic year.
However, yesterday we ran a live remote platform rehearsal day to prepare ourselves in the event we need to transition speedily to remote learning only. Students stayed home and logged in via Google Meet to their classes, while teachers reported to school and taught from their respective classrooms. Students attended classes at their scheduled class times, and we continued to follow the usual bell schedule.