You Are Enough: Self-Care in this Stressful Time

Mike Lawson • String Section • October 28, 2020

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The phrase has been overused recently, but we are in unprecedented times. I am taking a step back from the orchestra tips this month, to address the stress I am seeing every day in the various social media groups I belong to.

This has been an extremely stressful year for all teachers, but especially music teachers. What we do is inherently in large groups and social, which is severely restricted right now. All of our traditions that we have spent many years building (or that were in place when we came to our positions) are suddenly not possible or have to be radically changed in some way. Sometimes these bring positive changes, sometimes not. All of it is stressful; we are all worried about saving our programs for the future, always looking over our shoulder at our colleagues within the same system, or adjacent districts in our region, and we think we are not doing enough. This is having adverse effects on our own personal well-being and health.

Toxic positivity is also a problem right now, with everyone encouraging “self-care” and “taking time for one’s self” but insisting that we as teachers “can do anything” and that “it could always be worse.” I am here to tell you, no, it really can’t be worse, and we can’t do everything, and shouldn’t do everything. If admin really wants that concert to be online, make them give you the resources, time, and support to make it happen. I get that you want to save your program, but your program cannot be saved if you are down for the count mentally and physically. The kids will be okay, they are resilient, we are not supposed to be on call 24/7/365, and we are not paid at that level anyway.

Especially as we enter the winter holiday season, and with all indications the pandemic is increasing again, we all need to focus on what is important, and that is keeping ourselves and our families healthy, hale and whole, mentally and physically. Focusing on the social-emotional resilience with our students should also be prioritized during this time, this year especially. Who cares if they can play a two-octave G Major scale perfectly? I would drill it down to basics with an example: “Does playing your instrument bring you joy?

Here are three different exercises from our book, choose which one you like the best, that gives you the most joy in playing.” Perhaps even though it would be review, having students go back and share their favorite songs or exercises from years past, and helping to remember better times can go a long way to building some community and social-emotional resilience.

As we enter what is often the most difficult time of the year for many reasons, remember this: You are enough. Whatever you are doing is enough. Do what you can during your contracted time, and the rest will be there. Do not feel like you have to have the great “Star-Studded Mega Supershow Online.” Take your foot off the theoretical gas pedal, and just enjoy the small moments this season. With luck, we will be able to return to our long-standing program traditions next year, and they will be much more appreciated with the perspective we have gained during this trying time.

Lesley Schultz currently teaches orchestra and secondary general music at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her Bachelor of Music Education from West Virginia University and her Master of Music Education from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Lesley keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME and serves as OMEA Conference Liaison for OMEA and on the conference committee for TI:ME. In her copious amounts of spare time she enjoys knitting, watching West Virginia Mountaineer sports and spending time with her family.

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