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Classrooms during COVID

Megan Jonynas, music teacher, PS 139 in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

New York Teacher

Even after 21 years as a music teacher, the challenges of the pandemic make us all first-year teachers again.

At PS 139, I have a fully equipped music room but COVID-19 has forced me to adapt for my push-in and remote classes. For a rhythm lesson, I tell my students to get to a table and take two pencils or borrow spoons and pots from the kitchen. These are what I call found percussion. My students’ kitchens have what we need to replace the classroom drums, sticks and maracas we once used. We also add movement, using our whole bodies, and I move with them so it’s fun for all of us.

Each week I create a grade-level Google slide presentation for my 400 students from pre-K to 5th grade. I teach remotely for the first two periods and the last period of the day and in person during the three middle periods while the students eat lunch. The slides have the lesson goal, definitions, a song with lyrics and music, and some short-answer questions so I can evaluate how the students are keeping up.

We do a lot of singing and listening as part of music appreciation. The students learn about different styles of music and the cultures of different communities. And while we can’t all sing together in the same room, I love to see their lips move on the screen and notice that the more self-conscious students are more willing to sing along if I’m singing, too.

I do miss the former magic of them all getting into the music and the energy in the room. But this is a new opportunity, a new experience.

Parents sometimes step into the remote lesson with a question or comment and I have to remind them there is a class in progress. We are all working on being understanding in our new circumstances.

Another music teacher and I have just been able to get the school band and orchestra up and running. Last year’s 4th-graders had a chance to learn the basics during their time in school from September to March, so they are continuing in 5th grade. They picked up their instruments at school before we were all remote.

We work in large- and small-group instruction. When they’ve learned their parts, they record themselves and play along with a track. Then we put it all together for online performances scheduled for February and for graduation in June.

I miss the special “aha” moments when the kids in the band are all playing together and they sense the excitement. But we have learned to create special moments now, too.

as told to reporter Dorothy Callaci

Xue Qing Liang, chemistry teacher

Classrooms during COVID

To make the school year feel successful, educators are revising lesson plans, troubleshooting technology and investigating new strategies. Day by day, they’re figuring out what works for their students — and themselves. Read their stories.