2020 Survey Report on COVID-19’s Impact

Mike Lawson • FeaturesJanuary 2021 • January 8, 2021

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In December, we surveyed previous recipients of the “50 Directors Who Make A Difference” honor from the past three years on their experience teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. We decided it would be a good idea to also survey the readers of the magazine for their own thoughts from the 2020-2021 school year under COVID-19. The results are not that different; in fact, they mirror what our esteemed designation recipients reported, by and large.

The bottom line is that it’s not great.

Teaching instrumental music under the current conditions is very difficult. Educators everywhere are experiencing similar scenarios, pushed into blended learning and a mismatch of in-person and distance schedules that in some cases are constantly changing. We would like to thank the 1394 readers who responded to the survey.

With so many responses, we did not have space to include all of the comments in our questions eight and nine, or in question thirteen, but reduced these down to attempt to minimize redundant replies, where so many readers said the same thing in different words. Respondents were allowed to skip questions, so you may see some questions with a few less than 1394 answers.

SBO strongly encourages all of our readers to visit SBOMagazine.com to nominate their colleagues who have exhibited courage and excellence in the face of this strange and trying year, so that in 2021, we can return to our traditional “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” issue.

Q1 How is your program structured this year?

The vast majority of respondents are teaching hybrid programs. Remote-only and in-person only were nearly tied, with remote-only edging in-person out by a few points. Nearly identical with the 50 Directors survey at 1.85%, 1.87% of the respondents replied that their program was canceled completely.

Q2 How worried are you about the impact of coronavirus on your students?

With the 50 Directors survey, 7.55% of respondents “were not so worried” about the impact of coronavirus on their students, but this survey audience reports 4.52%. We left the definition of “impact” open, because it could mean so many things, from their music program, to their health, family life, or more. Most respondents are worried about the general impact at these varying degrees. Over 90% of respondents are somewhat to extremely worried for their students.

Q3 How worried are you about your co-workers’, and/or your students’ safety when teaching in-person classes?

While 11.33% of respondents were not at all worried, and 5.81% of respondents were not teaching in-person at all, the majority of respondents are somewhat to extremely worried about the safety of their co-workers, students, and themselves when teaching in-person.

Q4 How worried are you about the impact of coronavirus on your music program?

Those not so worried about the impact of coronavirus on their program are only 2.3%, with 0.29% not at all worried, while 97.41% of respondents are somewhat to extremely concerned.

Q5 How worried are you about the impact of coronavirus on your school or district?

Here, 9.06% of respondents were not so worried about the impact of the pandemic on their school or district, and 0.58% were not at all concerned, leaving just over 90% who are somewhat to extremely worried, with the plurality going to “very.”

Q6 How easy or difficult is it for you to teach effectively these days?

Approximately 10% of respondents replied that teaching effectively these days is somewhat easy or neither easy nor difficult. In the 50 Directors survey, none replied, “very easy,” but in this larger survey, 0.36% said this year has been very easy for them to teach effectively. A majority said it was “somewhat difficult” at 50.32%, down from the 50 Directors survey at 58.49%. However, a significant portion — 32.4% of respondents — say it is very difficult this year.

Q7 How easy or difficult is it for your students to learn effectively these days?

Three out of 1390 replies from the respondents found it very easy for their students to learn effectively, and 47 of respondents replied that it was somewhat easy, and 8.7% said it was neither easy nor difficult. A solid majority replied, at 52.37%, that it is somewhat difficult, with over 35% finding it was very difficult.

Q8 What are the TOP THREE biggest challenges you are currently facing while teaching remotely?

These answers cover a variety of common issues facing educators teaching remotely or in hybrid scenarios:

We had 429 readers who had specific comments, and again, we are presenting a summary to reduce redundant similar comments.

• Students turning in assignments.

• No PPE yet for instruments, so we cannot play at school even though we are on campus.

• How to effectively run band “rehearsals” on Zoom.

• The students need to be in the classroom for accountability, hands-on work, and explanation/demonstration of skills and troubleshooting simple issues. Time management — everything takes so long to accomplish!

• Being able to fix/repair instrument problems/tune beginning string students.

• No “classroom” energy.

• Listening to instruments through Zoom.

• Not being able to teach band…only music appreciation.

• Zoom was not created for musicians to play together, [there’s] too much latency.

• Limited knowledge of technology and how to use it most effectively.

• Trying to get students to turn on their video cameras ([which] helps with student engagement); getting students to turn in their assignments.

• Creating online lessons/quizzes.

• Genuine concern/anxiety for student mental health and engagement.

• Inability to speak to students privately and it’s harder to motivate students when teaching remotely.

• So much extra work, with no additional time.

• Ability to assess student performance accurately.

• Having to reinvent how I teach music on the fly in constantly changing circumstances.

• Kids don’t practice!

• Lessons and lectures must be planned in great detail. Any spontaneous teaching is not an option.

• Inability of students to play “together” to develop their sense of intonation and rhythm in a live setting.

• I am in six different buildings (four each day). Students can come and go to remote as needed. It is very difficult to develop continuity.

• Not getting to know my online students. It makes it hard to teach when I don’t know them.

• Inability to give feedback quickly.

• Are the students really engaged or just logged on?

• Students report doing two to three times as much work for their academic classes, which makes it difficult to engage in orchestra.

• Teaching both in-person and online at the same time – [it’s] difficult to do both at the same time.

• Aerosol concerns with instruments.

• Decline in musical progress.

• (In)frequency of teaching time… 30 minutes once every 2.5 weeks.

• Teachers have to come in to the building each day, even when kids are remote.

• Having to completely restructure and reimagine the curriculum to focus on individual, rather than group music-making.

Q9 What are the TOP THREE biggest challenges your students are currently facing while participating in your music program remotely?

We pulled from 229 specific comments to share here.

• Not having me in class to help them monitor their playing.

• Family members asleep when they are [supposed] to play.

• Inability to prioritize and complete work in all courses.

• Unable to tune and care for the instruments efficiently.

• Emotional distress, depression, and anxiety.

• Lack of support at home and motivation for all the work.

• They miss the concert performances. There’s no goal…

• [No] motivation to do something difficult–students want things to be easy (not that I blame them).

• Masks and distancing while playing.

• Parents wanting to travel and vacation!

• We use Teams, which is terrible for trying to do something as simple as a sectional.

• Just being lazy.

• Not enough experience yet, difficult for beginners to learn.

• Being on campus is normally a great equalizer for students, taking away many of the at home issues that cause them stress, etc. Being remote means their home issues are harder to hide from in class.

• Positioning student fingerings and embouchures.

• Chromebooks are unreliable.

• It’s simply not as much fun.

• The fantastic relationships I had with students previous to March have withered on the vine.

• Lack of independence/maturity to navigate online setting without parent help.

• Apathy.

• Having to babysit siblings.

• Psychological impacts of not being around friends for my remote learners.

• No consistency. When COVID case counts climb to a certain level, the school moves to all distance learning for two weeks. This has created inconsistencies for rehearsal or practice time as well as planning concerts.

• Trying to learn a brand-new skill with no human contact.

• Too easy to check out of the process.

• Microsoft Teams is insufficient platform for teaching a music class due to the delay in sound, so we can’t rehearse anything together unless the students mute themselves and then I can’t hear them, obviously that’s a problem).

• [The] band being split into 8 different sections, so they never rehearse together.

Q10 Thinking about your current remote teaching arrangements, how long is this something you could comfortably maintain?

An encouraging plurality, at 38.87%, replied that they could maintain current teaching arrangements, whatever they may be for their programs, for more than three months, or in essence, the rest of the school year. This is very close to the response from the small 50 Directors survey, which was about 35%.

However, 29.45% believe their current situation is not sustainable now (versus 33.96% from the 50 Directors). The rest replied with shorter timeframes. Clearly, the majority of respondents are not happy or encouraged by their current remote teaching situations, which are, of course, personal to them and their particular circumstances.

Q11 Thinking about what you know about current “learn from home” arrangements, is this something your students could comfortably maintain and still learn instrumental music?

In this larger survey, 6.28% replied that their students could comfortably maintain and still learn instrumental music in their current home arrangements. In the 50 Directors survey, it was 0%. A healthy plurality at 38.39% think they can, perhaps for this school year. An optimistic 20.51% are waiting to see, while 34.82% simply said “No.”

Q12 How confident are you in the administration’s or district’s leadership team to make the right decisions to manage through this crisis?

Perhaps the leading reason why we made this survey anonymous was to give our readers the chance to answer this question as candidly as possible.

About 30% of the respondents are very to extremely confident in their district’s or administration’s leadership during this unprecedented crisis. When you add in those who are “somewhat confident” in their leaderships, it is a solid majority over 70% that are somewhat to extremely confident in their administration. However, that leaves about 29% of them who are not so confident, or not at all confident.

We asked a final question, to allow a freeform response from SBO readers to put into their own words what their concerns are for their programs this year.

We hope this provides you with some insight on how things are going across the country, helps you cope with your own program scenarios for better or worse, and that you can perhaps gleam some encouragement as you try to plan for the next school year in 2021-2022.

Q13 What is your single greatest concern right now for your music program? What has changed for you this year and how are you and your students doing?

• There’s becoming an increasing gap between the students I teach on campus and those at home. Even though I provide instructional videos and examples, about half of the remote students (3rd-6th grade) do not fully engage and complete assignments correctly. Since I teach K-6th grades, there’s too many students to personally connect with.

• Retention and skill set. Some programs have lost students, all programs are recognizing loss of skills across the board.

• The social aspect of music playing has been intermittent to non-existent.

• Trying to find ways for orchestra students to feel a part of something when they are scattered all over the globe (we are a private boarding College Prep High School and have students from all over the world attending). They can play but they are really missing out on the camaraderie and collaboration usually enjoyed in orchestra.

• Constant and unpredictable absence among teachers and staff. Poor continuity in the learning environment. Students who are not strongly self-motivated are failing when remote.

• Culture does not put value on fine arts. Students don’t do work because it’s not important to them or parents.

• The lack of performances. My students thrive on performances and we just have none. We have done video concerts and they were successful. We plan to have a live stream concert in February. The students are excited for this and so am I!

• There is very little accountability with my students both in-person and virtually, either with grades or attendance. Despite low accountability requirements for students, teachers are still being held strictly accountable for low and or failing grades. My school district knew in May that we were most likely going to start remotely in August yet did not prepare or train teachers for a brand-new classroom management system until just a short time before school started. As such, my students and I continue to struggle with learning this new system.

• Travel is almost out of the question, and that’s a big recruiting tool. Registration numbers are down, and that is at least partly because of how remote learning went at the end of last school year.

• Greatest concern: That we may be seeing the death of American public school music instruction as it has traditionally been taught. We may never again see large groups of music students performing together daily.

• My mental health. Trying to teach live and remote at the same time.

• My concern is that remote learning won’t help those students who do not have the appropriate technology at home.

• [My] Greatest concern is the safety and well-being of my students. Many of my students rely on playing in my ensembles to get them through their day. I am concerned what they might turn to in order to replace this. We are doing the best we can with what we got.

• We continue to experience new surges. This creates challenges for planning future courses and performances.

• Students are not able to practice on the school instruments. The same thing happened last March. We had to evacuate the campus leaving all the school instruments behind. Very soon from now the students would have not touched their instruments in a year!

• I had to have general music and band classes outdoors for K – 6 during the 1st 9 weeks. We dealt with wind and critters and it took me 14 loads to haul everything outdoor every morning. Then haul a few things in and bring out a few different things in the afternoon. It was exhausting. No custodial help was offered.

• My district doesn’t care…they’ve drank the “Covid is a hoax” Kool-Aid.

• Inadequate physical space to teach students at required distancing is severely limiting instruction.

• In what sense are we an ensemble if we literally never play together?

• I worry that if we have another spring like last year, our kids will quit in droves.

• Making sure students are college-ready

• I’m afraid the administration won’t make the changes necessary to sustain our elementary music program. We haven’t been able to keep a music teacher in this position for a few years, because we teach 900 students each week and are pressured to be as effective as any classroom teacher. I’m retiring and am afraid the program will be canceled when I am gone, rather than hire more teachers and make it sustainable. It’s required by our Ed Code, but frequently ignored.

• Budgets being taken away and used for other things. The budget will not be returning for a while. We are supposed to be marching in the Tournament of Roses parade. Funds have dried up…and fundraising is tough to get started.

• What’s killing us is contact tracing. A few weeks ago, almost half of my HS [high school] band was sent home because of this. It is difficult to have meaningful rehearsals this way. The shutdown really hurt my middle school program last year. Kids just lost interest

and did not return this year. My recruitment was destroyed in the spring, so my number of beginners is way down.

• We are barely making any progress. When at-home learners return, they are unprepared and very behind.

• I worry that there’s going to be a “lost generation,” of music students whose experience is so atypical that they will drop out without really knowing what they’re missing.

• Students being able to graduate. Students losing their electives due to low grades this year. Program level suffering due to student absences.

• Student motivation is very low. Students are unable to play their instruments at home when their siblings are also learning online. My students don’t have their own bedrooms or a private space to practice. They also live in apartment buildings that prohibit the playing of musical instruments.

• The PPE is an inconvenience and an annoyance, albeit a necessary one! The students are playing well and have adjusted to the new requirements—playing at a distance of 6’ or more, limited playing time, air purifiers humming, masks, bell covers, water emptying procedures, etc. Their attitudes are positive, and they seem grateful to be able to play in band. I would say that 75% of the students learning from home are barely checking in and are not getting much support from their families. I think our band staff has gotten better at diagnosing and making corrections by sound since we don’t have the benefit of seeing students’ embouchures. We also screened new members by examining facial features, checking for finger dexterity, and doing surveys and it turned out better than most years! We’re also doing more chamber music and we’ll be continuing to do more of that in the fall every year even after COVID-19 is no longer an issue.

• Using COVID as an excuse to downsize music programs for other, trendy curriculums such as STEAM or STEM.

• I have spent 16 years building a program and I am now back to square one. My most advanced 8th grade students will have only had 20 band rehearsals TOTAL ever next year. It will take at least five years to get back to where we were. I am the state teacher

of the year and my program had been shattered.

• Students miss the sound and playing with a BIG group – 60-80 students per group. They’re very timid playing in smaller groups of 18-20. It’s also difficult to “see” the students when they’re covered in musician masks.

• I am frustrated and exhausted. I often have 3 or 4 kids in the room and 20 onscreen. The kids onscreen are muted and the kids in the room are intimidated (not to mention they’re wearing masks). I hope they all stay in the program.

• My greatest concern is for the program to be cut. That’s not necessarily new for us, even before the pandemic, art programs are constantly worried about that. Luckily, we have a strong support from the administrators and the community.

• Going back in person when it is not safe.

• The bonding that happens in a band hall. The peer musical and emotional support that is so important to making a band “family.”

• It will take the rest of my career to re-build the program we had last spring before the shutdown.

• Not enough actual experience. We talk, we discuss, we explain… [but there’s] not enough “doing.”

• District financial health — I am worried that in these tough fiscal times my district will cut music teachers.

• Students that choose to not engage. What we’re offering is useful, but not if they don’t participate.

• Winter programs. We effectively moved our fall concerts outside to the football field. But now that it is colder, we have more obstacles to overcome.

• At a time when everybody is being forced to reevaluate their priorities, it is all that much easier now for students (and mostly their parents) to decide that music is less important than ever. I am astounded at how the primary consideration of a majority of my students

and their parents (and again…mostly fed by parents I believe) is how the current circumstances will hurt their transcripts and by extension hurt their chances to get into a “good” college or university. Music teachers were already preaching to an empty audience when it comes to the folly of having such a narrow focus academically, but now it’s just like

screaming into the void. It’ll take a decade to recover from this.

• I have a small music program in a low income, highly diverse school. Many students do not have access to good instruments, good internet access, or supervision to help on a daily basis both in or out of the classroom. This pandemic has taken those current problems and made them so much worse.

• Ensemble skills have taken a much further back seat due to instrumentation concerns.

• I’m finding out most of my parents don’t care if their students complete their music assignments, some don’t even care about the core classes.

• Currently, I am working 12 hours a day to be able to provide meaningful teaching to both virtual and face to face students and am failing because they can’t learn how to play with an ensemble when they are in an isolated environment. I have to work extra hours every day in order to have virtual and face to face student come in to rehearse together by class (x5), so am working everyday well into the evening hours and still have much more to do to grade and plan. This leaves little time for my family or my own self-care. Kids need to be back in school. They have very little risk of contracting the virus in this school environment, as we have seen over the past 3-plus months.

• No parental supervision. Children are being left home alone and failing all of their classes

• We are on a 3×3 schedule, meaning kids have half of their classes for half the year, and then switch, which means band kids will not have band for a stretch of 7 months, and because of this and other factors, many of them will quit.

• Progress monitoring. If they don’t record themselves on Flipgrid, I have no idea what they have been doing this year. They won’t play in front of others. We are still trying to incorporate concert (virtual recordings), solo contest virtual, and learning as much as I think they can. The pace is much, much slower. I had to review for months.

• The future of wind instrument and choral learning seems at jeopardy. We have already laid the groundwork to expand course offerings that will not be limited (orchestra, guitar, ukulele, percussion ensemble). My school district will not make a determination one way or another about music instruction under COVID-19. Therefore, we are doing anything possible to ensure continued music instruction and employment.

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