What Happens When You Can’t Be There?

Lesley Schultz • February 2022String Section • February 23, 2022

This will be an ongoing series we will touch on from time to time, and I felt it is an area in which no one likes to think about but happens more often than we would like to admit.  What happens if we as a music educator, must be out long term because of illness, injury, or other life situation?  

This is a topic that has recently become very personal to me.  Earlier in January 2022, I was stricken with transverse myelitis.  I am very fortunate I am alive, and I have kept my upper body with strength and movement. However, I am at this point partially paralyzed, and I am facing at least short-term use of a wheelchair to regain my independence. Obviously, in a situation like this teaching is the furthest thing from my mind, but I also want my students to have the best educational experience while I am away. We as music educators invest so much in our students and our programs that letting go of them can be very tough and anxiety inducing. To fully heal though, we need to trust our district has our interests at heart, and ultimately wants us back in the classroom doing what we do best.

Rules and regulations vary by state and/or country, but where I am, they need to get a subject-specific substitute to cover you long term. Ideally, that should happen within the first three weeks of your absence. If this is an absence that can be planned for (pregnancy, major surgery, etc.) you should work with your district to secure a subsitute ahead of time. Having a music person in your classes will help the students get the best educational experience they can in your absence. If you are in a highly specialized area, you may not get an exact match to your skills, but a music person is better than nothing. Advocate to get that music specific sub.

Next, make sure your curriculum is as complete as you can make it. Will there be some loose ends? Yes, but hopefully you have most of the slides, instructional materials, pacing guides, maps and such ready to go or only need minor tweaking. If you oversee a performing ensemble, hopefully you have an assistant, but you might want to leave a list of skills that can be reinforced or worked on while you are gone for all groups. If a performance is scheduled and you haven’t chosen literature, leave a few options that will help but also maybe give the sub some freedom to choose something from your library they might like.  

Make sure you leave some general guidelines of your classroom procedures that have been worked on with your students, troubleshooting for technology, and a general overview of the students (IEP’s, 504’s) but without influencing the sub’s opinion on a particular student. You should have good relationships with technology and if possible, have your sub stop by to make sure they sub know how to work your equipment, particularly if you are in a lab situation. Also list the names of any paras that come to your classroom, Intervention Specialists, and other staff for services your students might receive.  

Finally, make sure you work with HR to get all the proper FMLA leave paperwork done, check with your union (if you have one) to ensure they are aware you might need support for your leave of absence and you know the regulations in your contract.  Open and frank communication can solve a lot of problems and you need to know your rights. That is what the union is for. That is why you pay dues.  

Letting go can be hard. No one wants to do it, but if you want to be the best music educator you can long term, life sometimes intervenes, and ultimately, the students will be fine.

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her Bachelor of Music Education degree from West Virginia University and her Master of Music Education degree from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. She keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education) and serves as their Ohio Chapter President and on the National Conference Committee. Lesley is a columnist for SBO Magazine. Currently she is relearning how to walk! In her copious amounts of spare time, she enjoys knitting, watching West Virginia Mountaineer sports, and spending time with her family and making TikToks about her cats.

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