Teaching is hard. I know this from both sides of the chalkboard as I have been both a frustrated teacher and a terrible student.
I grew up with weekly piano lessons that I considered the most onerous of chores. Now that I’m older, I appreciate having learned the skill (don’t tell my parents), but back then, I practised rarely, faking my way through lessons. I’m sure poor Mrs. Johnson recognized this, but was patient enough never to say anything.
Later on, when I taught piano myself, a student caught me dozing off during his lesson. He thought it was hilarious, but I was horrified and didn’t think his parents would find it very funny. The truth is, listening to a student plod through the same song, hitting the same wrong notes over and over, can put you into a coma.
I was thinking about this as I listened to my daughter’s virtual piano lesson last weekend. Since #Lockdown2020 started, her teacher, Wendy Potter, has moved weekly lessons online via Skype. She always starts her lessons with a chipper voice, gamely making small talk with her student, asking how her week went, like pulling unbudgeable conversational teeth. Wendy’s energy and enthusiasm NEVER wavers throughout the entire lesson. With every wrong note, each mislaid fingering, and a sometimes flagrant disregard for counting, I have never heard even a hint of impatience come through the phone. That’s a skilled pro if I ever saw one.
And by the way, if you’re wondering how come I don’t just teach my daughter piano since I did it before, we tried that at first and after many MANY tears (sometimes hers), we decided to outsource to the equally wonderful Lara deBeyer. I credit Lara for being able to strategically connect with my very shy-at-the-time daughter and save her from the brink of abandoning piano forever to which I’d brought her.
Throughout these extra special self-isolation episodes, my daughter and I have not been able to go to our gym where in before times, we went several times a week to train in Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing). Very soon after the gym closed its doors, owner and head coach, Lanny Chan moved classes online. For the past 10 weeks (? I’ve lost track. What is time even?), he’s been running classes 5 nights a week, 3 kids’ classes during the day, plus his private personal training sessions. You think your videoconferences are hard? Try watching 10-15 people throwing punches and kicks on your screen, trying to correct their form and keep them engaged in their makeshift home gyms. Not only are we improving our shadowboxing, more importantly we’re learning to work with what we have, using canned goods for weights, adapting, building up resilience, doing whatever it takes to keep in shape before we can get back into the gym. Lanny’s dedication to his students motivates us to keep at it.
Finally, my sister, who has been an elementary school teacher for, what is it, close to 20 years now? has been navigating what it means to teach online. At the best of times, Tiiu is a passionate and creative teacher, spearheading such innovative programs as the School of Rock choir, somehow inspiring kids to throw their whole selves into belting out epic anthems, fists pumping, faces contorted into anguished grimaces of 110% rock devotion. Obviously, that’s no longer a thing, so instead, she orchestrates engaging class assignments, like getting all her students to take photos of themselves with everything they’ve been using to comfort themselves while they stay at home. She reminds the kids that she is thinking of them, misses them, and hopes they are doing OK.
These are some of the teachers I know who have been going to heroic lengths during these strange, strange times. Not only have they been able to give us some sense of normalcy, but they’ve reminded us of the importance to keep growing and learning right now; they’ve given us a sense of purpose. At a time when so much is out of our control, our teachers have reminded us that it is still within our power to keep developing ourselves, honing our craft, get stronger, and push forward.