2020 Survey Report on COVID-19 Impact

Mike Lawson • Directors Who Make a Difference • December 3, 2020

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For over two decades, the December issue of SBO magazine has honored a band director from each state in our annual “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” issue. Typically, the following five or six months are when nominations for the next issue pour in by the hundreds from students, administrators, parents, colleagues and more. As we all know, the following period in 2020 was not “normal.”

We did not see the deluge of entries this year because, well, everyone around the country was thrown into turmoil as schools began closing left and right, instruments owned by schools taken from students in most places, and music programs shifted to online or shuttered for the remainder of the school year.

As heartwarming as the monumental task was each year to select the directors who would make the annual issue so difficult but inspiring to assemble, this year’s task has been equally heartbreaking, while still somewhat inspiring, as we realized that the best solution in this year of anomalies was to forgo trying to do the normal “50 Directors” issue, and instead, reach out to previous recipients from the past three years, and ask them to tell us what is happening in their programs this year.

With responses from all 50 states, we promised anonymity and did not collect personal information, because some of the questions are sensitive in nature, and we wanted their input without concern of repercussions from anyone in their chain of command or parents who may read this survey report. We do not associate the answers with the responder states, either. The answers speak for themselves for the most part, and if anything, we will be able to show our instrumental music educator readers that they are not alone in their thoughts and experiences, their hopes, and their fears.

We did not have space to include all of the comments in our final question but reduced them down to attempt to eliminate redundant replies, where so many said the same thing in different words.

Please read this report and think about how your program is doing this year. We intend to send this same survey out to the entire readership next, to see how those responses compare to “50 Directors” alumni who replied.

We strongly encourage 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. Sadly, 1.85% of the respondents replied that their program was canceled completely.




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

Only 7.55% of respondents “were not so worried” about the impact of coronavirus on their students. 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.


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

While 9.26% of respondents were not at all worried, and 3.70% 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 was the same as the previous question, 9.26%, but over 90% of respondents are somewhat to extremely concerned.


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

Interestingly, a slight dip from those not so worried in the previous two questions, 7.41% of respondents were not so worried about the impact of the pandemic on their school or district. Over 92% are somewhere to extremely worried, with the plurality going to “extremely.”



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

Approximately 16% of respondents replied the teaching effectively these days is somewhat easy or neither easy nor difficult. None replied, “very easy.” A solid majority said it was “somewhat difficult” at 58.49%.


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

None of the respondents found it very easy for their students to learn effectively, and 16.82% of respondents replied that it was somewhat easy or neither easy nor difficult. A solid majority replied, at 55.56%, that it is somewhat difficult, with nearly 30% 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:

• My physical workspace – 7.69%

• Too many distractions at home – 13.46%

• I don’t have access to the tools or information I need to do my job at home – 11.54%

• Having effective lesson plans for distance teaching – 50.00%

• Internet connectivity – 38.46%

• Childcare – 5.77%

• Social isolation – 42.31%

• Communication with coworkers and/or administration is harder – 17.31%

• General anxiety about the impact of coronavirus on my life – 32.69%

Half of all respondents had specific comments, and again, we are presenting a summary to reduce redundant similar comments. Many replied with very similar comments, and these presented them the best.

Q8 Other Specified Comments

• Being able to truly assist my students with their problems in my class (specifically dealing with instrumental issues consisting of performance problems that need to be addressed)

• Getting students to be consistent with using items to protect them (masks and instrument covers)

• Band is a community activity

• Lack of instruments at home

• I am NOT a computer expert

• Not having online resources for virtual instruction

• That students are not taking advantage of the silver lining, to become the best musicians they can be!

• Due to FERPA, students are not required to have their cameras on so it’s difficult to see if they’re present/participating

• Many do not submit work on time, or at all

• Lack of physical contact with other humans

• A majority of the virtual students are not participating.

Students who are attending in-person learning, feel that that the virtual students don’t have to do anything. I’m not a strong tech person so it has been very tough to find effectiveness through the virtual delivery, especially when the students do not respond

• Mostly isolation. In order to continue teaching, I do not even see my husband. The only people I encounter are my students and the very rare occasions I go to the grocery store

• Freedom to use our distance time to teach because of central office teacher assignments

• Most students are in person, with some families that chose remote learning. Trying to teach to both groups at the same time is most challenging

• Translating band into something done over Zoom

• Feeling useless, like I’m not accomplishing anything

• Difficulty creating good, healthy relationships with my students

• The social part of band has been taken away which is a huge problem

• Only can hear one at a time

• The medium itself is faulty. My students always took band because they enjoyed the experience – the rehearsals, the camaraderie. There is no way to replace that

• Scheduling

• Students completing work

• The amount of work required to keep up with county requirements results in 12-hour workdays and I can hardly see my family, much less take care of myself

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

Here we are asking for the directors responding to identify from this question what they find to be the biggest challenges their students are facing.

• Their physical workspace – 16.67%

• Too many distractions at home – 51.85%

• Inadequate access to the instruments, or supportive tech – 31.48%

• Internet connectivity – 50.00%

• Competition from other subjects – 24.07%

• Not being able to play with other students – 79.63%

A third of respondents had specific comments, which we again summarize here for space.

Q9 Specified Comments

• Students feel isolated and depressed

• No family support/encouragement

• Me not being able to help them personally

• They are LAZY. Easily distracted.

• A lack of continuity

• Our bell schedule is confusing to students – asynchronous days get treated as ‘days off’ and many students fall behind in their work.

• Students have a hard time with planning and scheduling. It is hard for them to plan outside of their current day.

• Lack of supervision due to parents having to work

• Motivation while alone

• Special needs students struggle greatly with remote learning. This is the number one challenge.

• Lack of home support

• Depression/Apathy

• Again, no social interaction

• Losing interest

• Students are only allowed to participate in person.

• Reduced instruction time

• Apathy

• Not enough opportunity to help students who are struggling.

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

An encouraging plurality, at 35.85%, 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. However, 33.96% believe their current situation is not sustainable now. 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?

Not a single respondent replied that their students could comfortably maintain and still learn instrumental music in their current home arrangements. Not one, 0%. A healthy plurality at 42.59% think they can, perhaps for this school year. An optimistic 22.22% are waiting to see, while 35.19% 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 these previously honored educators the chance to answer this question as candidly as possible.

• Extremely confident – 7.41%

• Very confident – 25.93%

• Somewhat confident – 31.48%

• Not so confident – 25.93%

• Not confident at all – 9.26%

The good news is that the plurality of respondents, at 33.34%, are very to extremely confident in their district’s or administration’s leadership during this unprecedented crisis. When you add in those that are “somewhat confident” in their leaderships, it is a solid majority that are somewhat to extremely confident in their administration or district at 64.82% of respondents. However, that leaves 35.18% of them are not so confident, or not at all confident.

We asked a final question, to allow a freeform response by the previous “50 Directors” recipients to put into their own words what their concerns are for their programs this year. Since we requested responses from the past three years of honorees, we had to again edit down the final question comments for space but believe we have presented a very well-rounded look at the replies here. We hope this provides you would some insight on how things are going across the country, helps you cope with your own program scenarios for better or worse, and perhaps gleam some encouragement as you try to plan for the next school year in 2021-2022.

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?

Motivating students to keep working on their skills, without the benefit of playing in an ensemble.

Retention and recruitment. It can be hard to get excited about beginning to learn to play an instrument in this environment, as well as finding the joy of ensemble playing without getting to play with an ensemble.

My biggest concern is about retention and how many of my band parents will be too scared to allow their students to continue in an instrumental/band program. This is the first year that I lost more than just a few students at the beginning of the school year. The main reason was because parents felt that “Covid” could be spread by band instruments, according to fears garnered from aerosol studies. Things are improving, but retention is my biggest concern, especially not being able to play in our classroom on a daily basis (we have to play outside until all PPE equipment is in) and no concerts to showcase our talent and musical progress for our students and program.

Since we are still in person, my greatest concern is the safety of my students, myself, and my family. Some classes are easy to socially distance and keep masks on, but the classes with wind players are impossible to follow the guidelines while following the curriculum. Changes happening this year are keeping six feet apart, wearing masks, instrument covers, remote performances, and using a lot of hand sanitizer and cleaning stands/chairs between classes.

Even with in-person teaching, masks and social distancing are robbing us of communal nature of band. Lack of performances is robbing us of a lot of motivation.

I went from an award-winning wind ensemble to nothing since March. Online lessons were just practice-on-your-own time-killers. The state health department is not supportive of band and chorus. They recommend we suspend for the year. I have not seen my students and I have no extra time to search them out, as I teach music history to mostly non-music students. I am actively planning a path out of teaching as I do not have it in me to rebuild what I created over 25 years.

The administration thinks students need “grace” – give them a break on grades, participation, etc. Kids have learned that they can do nothing and not get an “F.” It is a joke.

My concerns are all long range. We can get through this year. It’s been difficult, we’re working under adverse conditions, and we’ve had more attrition that usual, but we can do it. However, if the current way of teaching extends beyond this school year, I’m concerned about the sustainability and strength of our instrumental programs for years down the line.

Aside from health concerns for my family, my students, and their families, I am most concerned with student engagement. My school district has been remote since the beginning of the year, and our return date has been pushed back several times. I am mostly concerned about keeping kids engaged and focused in-class– which is really hard using the digital platform. I am also concerned that my enrollment will shrink, and my position will be cut if I can’t figure out how to teach online effectively. Teaching band through a screen–and often with no cameras or microphones is really challenging.

Losing students from our honor band program. Our numbers increased in beginning band and percussion classes.

Student retention, skill retention, and motivation.

We have a good system in place of rolling out new materials to kids, including play along videos and rehearsal videos. My concern is what we miss from group play, steady pulse, staying together, listening to each other, tuning, blend, etc. Hopefully playing with the recordings and rehearsal videos we’ve provided helps keep that going some. Younger students have a harder time because of their lack of experience. We don’t have beginners this year, but that will be a new wrinkle if this extends into next year.

My number one concern is mental health and anxiety levels of the students and staff. We have backed off on the level of music we are doing and play more fun music. The students really enjoy the chance to decompress during the day. We spend much more time just talking to students and listening to how their lives are going.

We will not achieve the level of performance we have in previous years and I believe it will affect the program for a few years. We have been a combination of online [learning] with some students and in-person, with the majority of students until this point — all students now going online. I will miss the personal contact with students. Even with all of our mitigation devices and masks required, it was great to see students.

That the threat is not to the students. We are disabling the population who is not only our future but is relatively unaffected by the virus.

Like everyone else, being unable to see the kids in person and effectively help them when musical, technical, emotional problems arise. It’s difficult to troubleshoot things online, especially when having the camera on is not a requirement. It’s hard to determine how the students are doing because many of them don’t respond to questions about themselves, how things are, etc.

That the procedures put in place will stay beyond the pandemic and we will be struggling with them long into the future.

I am concerned about losing the kids who are learning remotely. In our district, three high school band directors are teaching remote band classes. We are not only teaching our own students; we each have an assortment of students from all three high schools based on their schedules. I am not able to form relationships with my students who are in their classes (particularly the freshmen).

My single greatest concern for students right now would [be for them to] continue to love playing their instruments. What has changed, or come more to the forefront, would be that time is our greatest gift and change is the only constant. I have changed how much I assess, made work/life balance my first priority, and have let small things go. Letting things go for me means to let things be — release them. The standards haven’t changed. Students are doing well overall. We started virtually and thrived in that atmosphere. We have been in hybrid for the last four weeks. Students are happy to play together (outside). When we are inside, we focus on strengthening our relationships.

My school did not keep band in the schedule. So, I do not see my band students. I am teaching all general music.

The kids are depressed, alone, miserable, and many kids are failing their classes (besides band) that they normally wouldn’t have. It is so sad to see them to depressed and so hopeless.

Online learning has killed kids’ enthusiasm for school in general (many students told me they have zero motivation to do anything once they sign off for the day), and I am very worried about how it will affect my program going forward. I had one of the largest programs in my district before this all hit, and we were playing grade 4-5 level music at superior levels. Will the students continue taking band, even though a lot of them have failed band this semester (especially the new kids that didn’t get to have band camp, and normal “welcoming” events to get them involved at the start of the year)? Will their parents let them come back to band if they failed the class this semester (and their other classes)? Or will the kids that have failed band (or even the ones that haven’t failed) still have enthusiasm for playing, or did this “online” environment just sour them to the whole idea of being in band? It’s sad, ridiculous, and beyond frustrating, especially for the seniors. What a waste of a year for them, and they lost out on so many traditions and things they will never get to experience, since you can’t take your senior year again. It has been extremely hard on all of us.

Well, the band program was already struggling. The situation has just accelerated the decrease in numbers (for participation). The orchestra was growing, but the situation has led to students dropping orchestra and taking other classes. I have also found, through conversations with other directors, that have experienced ineffective teachers (who were ineffective before the virus) being able to blame the situation for their lack of effectiveness. That’s so frustrating when I know that there are so many people who are working so hard to be effective during an ineffective situation. And yet, the already ineffective teachers, now have been given an excuse for their ineffectiveness. I’m afraid that this issue will hurt lots of programs, including the one that I lead.

Recruitment of new students and keeping current students engaged and wanting to return.

The greatest concern for our program is recruiting students. Not being able to recruit in the spring significantly affected our number of beginner students. Our school is on a hybrid schedule where the student body is divided into two groups. The students attend on alternating days, however, and those enrolled in band meet daily, which has given the students a sense of normalcy. Every student is required to wear a mask and most of our rehearsals are outdoors.

Enrollment and retention. Kids are dropping for easier classes.

Not being able to be together as a full group and make music together. Not learning who the new students are – it is nearly impossible with masks and social distancing and few to no performance opportunities.

Recruiting and numbers. Having almost half of our students remote and the other traditional is really hard. The remote students for the most part want to be at school.

We have relatively few cases in our county and had zero until September. We have four in school days and one remote learning day. All my students are doing great with this particular arrangement. The difficulties arise when numerous students are quarantined for an extensive period of time and a portion of those students do not attempt to do any of the remote assignments. Secondly, but equally as important, teachers are isolated, and we are teaching in person and concurrently setting remote assignments and also hard copy assignments for students with no internet access. It is triple the already heavy workload. I am aware of a growing list of people suffering from depression. I also believe that the most optimistic of us are living in hope of this situation ending soon. However, I also am aware of normally optimistic people who are cracking under the pressure. My music program is doing very well other than the issues mentioned. Students are happy in school and it is the only thing that is keeping me going.

Lack of student interest because they are not together working as an ensemble, giving performances, working as a group effort, and the social development that comes from this. The numbers are dropping everywhere of student involvement in performing ensembles.

That without performance opportunities, music and other arts will continue to be supplanted in society by sports because we are willing to stop for a while, but sports remain going actively.

Access to quality music instruction.

I am in a high-risk category for COVID-19, so I choose to teach from home. My students are not allowed to play in school. We aren’t allowed to have outdoor rehearsals either. We were already trying to rebuild after budget cuts 12 years ago, so this has devastated the program in my high school. I don’t know if our band program will survive this.

I only teach beginning band. My numbers are down this year (which I understand to be a national trend). I am currently only teaching lessons of 1-2 students, [with] no rehearsals to try and keep elementary homeroom classes from intermingling with each other and spreading the virus. Thus, I only see the students one time per week for 20 minutes. Obviously, because of the lack of contact time, there is much, much material I’m not able to cover. I know this will have a huge impact on our band program for the next seven years.

The challenge of not having performances, and not rehearsing as a full ensemble. We are rewriting the way band works. Internet/equipment challenges makes teaching much more difficult and time-consuming. What could be easily done in seconds now takes much, much longer (ex.. oiling valves with a beginner). So many schools have pushed music to the side, giving priority to the “core” classes. The hierarchy of disciplines is on full display right now.

Other than recordings of assignments, there is not a lot of real-time learning opportunities for our band students. Many of them do not bother to turn on their cameras and are reluctant to ask for help if they needed, even though we ask and make ourselves available.

Developing the younger students, they are very far behind at this point.

Right now, we are fully virtual. If we go to a hybrid or in-person schedule, I am not sure my district will be able to afford bell covers and PPE necessary to hold in-person rehearsals. The virtual model is certainly difficult, but at least my students have the ability to play for class. If we meet in person, that may all change.

While we are doing the best we can right now in my high school band class, my greatest concern is what will happen to my program and music programs across the country as we move forward in the next five to 10 years. Students lost weeks of instructional time during the spring, and now students are losing additional instructional time due to contact tracing and at-home learning. Some schools aren’t allowed to play their band instruments inside right now, some schools aren’t allowed to have concerts, and unfortunately some schools aren’t allowed to even band or choir right now. How will this affect programs for the next six years as those kids progress through high school and go on to graduate? The biggest change for me this year is learning how to be flexible. I never know how many kids are going to be in my class each day. One day I lost 25 kids due to contact tracing in other classes. It has been a struggle to come up with online lessons that keep the kids engaged in making music. My students are handling the pandemic the best that they can, but the farther we progress into the school year I can see the frustration beginning to affect them more and more. The same could be said for teachers as well.

Judging from what I’ve gathered from colleagues in our region, we have experienced a minimal impact on our program. The vast majority of our students are in the classroom. While we have protocols in place for student safety, they have not drastically affected our ability to teach on a daily basis. We have been very lucky. The students who are at home, however, are having a difficult time keeping up. Our virtual beginning students, particularly, are simply not receiving the same level of instruction as our in-person students. We do our best to give them the resources they need to learn, but there is no substitute for face-to-face instruction.

Retaining students is the number one greatest concern — especially at the beginning level. It is going to have a huge effect on numbers next year and will take several years to recover. Everything has changed this year. We are going through the motions of teaching and learning each day, and at the end of each day we are just glad we made it through. This has been devastating for our band program.

Quite simply my greatest concern is numbers in the program. The retention from spring to fall for band was terrible and now that we are back in school I can only do lesson groups of no more than four—but I also have to provide instruction for students who remained virtual. There was a lot of wasted manpower before this, so now instead of trying to start new beginners I am focusing all my time and attention on second year players in a hope to retain them because the Jr. High numbers also took a huge hit.

• Students are resigning from the music program due to lack of interest, motivation, and resilience. Keeping them excited about music is the most important job we have during this awful time.

My greatest concern is numbers. Our beginning band program is down 50 percent, which will play an instrumental role in our program for years to come. Having to teach beginners in masks is the biggest change along with how the band hall must be set up. Given the circumstances, I think me, my colleagues and students are doing the best we can with the circumstances we have.

No beginning band this year, and the second-year students have very reduced time with the music teacher. We will be feeling this for years to come!

I’ve seen many students quit my program to pursue either early graduation or simply just a different class load. I’m concerned about keeping interest in the group.

Lack of playing, which will impact my program for years down the road. The social/emotional well-being of my students will also take years to heal.

I’m incredibly concerned that we won’t have a program when this is all said and done. Administration does not seem particularly concerned with offering our music programs extra support to get through this in the years to come, and I worry that we will not be able to build the program back up to the level and size that it once was. I’m very concerned that we will not be given the opportunity to grow our programs before de-staffing and the offering of additional non-music elective options occur. I also struggle daily between finding a balance between creating an online class that is fun and engaging, while presenting a rigorous band curriculum, as I ultimately still think students will want to continue if they have the efficacy to learn and are pleased with how they can perform on their instrument but am aware that the bulk of their work and growth is accomplished on their own, which is not appealing to many.

Numbers and interest are waning. I hope the program can sustain this crisis and we can retain students through it.

We are the only subject forced to be completely virtual. Even athletics are allowed to practice. I worry that we will become irrelevant, if we aren’t already. Nobody in my district seems concerned that music is dwindling.

Student dropouts from the program through all the grades. I foresee a major loss of student participation for years to come.

The single greatest concern for my program is my feeder programs. Vermont school bands are only allowed to play outdoors, and teachers are struggling to start instrumentalists and have band at the elementary level.

I’m concerned for my kids, not anything else.

This year is challenging. No matter what you do it’s not right for everyone and many activities are strange or canceled.

My biggest concern is for the continuity of the program and,  by extension, for keeping music in my students’ lives. Kids feel disconnected from me and from the band, and I fear they will forget why they started to play an instrument and what it is like to make music with a group. I miss seeing kids, I miss conducting, and I miss making music. My Freshmen are struggling with everything and I can only help them if they choose to log on to “synchronous help” time, which is only a couple of times per week anyway. During class, we work in breakout rooms and the kids evaluate each other’s work. This is actually going quite well, given the circumstances, but it is no substitute for playing together. My students and I are sad and frustrated.

Please keep in mind that this is not a “scientific survey” and we at SBO are, thankfully, not professional pollsters. We attempted to write questions that are commonly asked of other industries and tailor them to music education, then present them for summary in this issue. No hardship you or your students face this year will change the fact that music is extremely important in education, and many of your students depend on you to give them this semblance of normal now. We share your program hopes, dreams, concerns, and applaud your determination and dedication in this trying time.

Please remember to visit https://sbomagazine.com/directors-who-make-a-difference.html to nominate a colleague or other inspiring instrumental music educator in your life for our 2021 issue. Thank you.

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