Often times when we think of a teacher, we’re imagining those who help kids learn skills like math, reading, and writing. But what about music, art, and gym teachers? Their jobs also got more difficult during the pandemic, but their struggles looked different compared to traditional classroom teachers.
30-year-old music teacher at Kenwood Elementary School in Champaign, Emily Kuchenbrod said one of the hardest things throughout the pandemic was not being able to hear her kids sing during online learning sessions.
“Usually, we’re all singing together in the classroom, and even though they were singing, they were muted,” Kuchenbrod said. “Being able to have that instant feedback is nice because it’s a very aural skill.”
Now being back in the classroom, the availability of space and not being able to see kids’ mouths due to mask wearing are some of the current obstacles Kuchenbrod is facing.
“It’s difficult because a lot of choir skills, especially for young singers, are modeled by the teacher,” she said. “It’s not always as challenging musically as it is performatively, but there are times when I need to signal to take a breath or guide them visually with my face and it’s a tough thing to overcome.”
However, Kuchenbrod earnestly shared how many good things came out of this stressful time. As a music teacher, she gets to see her students’ progress one year after the next and while they may be a bit behind due to the hardships of COVID-19, the curriculum grants a lot of freedom to meet kids where they’re at.
The flexibility allows Kuchenbrod and other music teachers in the district to select projects and activities they think are fun and engaging that still pave the way to reach goals in creating, performing, responding, and connecting to music.
Through it all, she revealed how proud she was of her students’ abilities to remain resilient and enthusiastic about attending music class during their week, regardless of the learning model.
“The kids are so excited about music and they don’t even know how important that is,” Kuchenbrod said. “It continues to motivate me and makes me want to create a space that is one they can feel good about themselves in.”
Not only that, Kuchenbrod also expressed how much she learned about herself as a teacher while needing to adapt to her students’ needs and remembers significant instances that may have been small victories at the time, but would prove to broaden her knowledge in the long run.
“I did a lot of things last year that I’d never done in my seven years of teaching, just because I had never had the need, or even the time to do or explore them,” she said. “It was fun learning about different ways to connect with my students; it was a good challenge.”
Luckily, the challenge wasn’t just accepted by Kuchenbrod, but teachers everywhere, which made for a nice support system within the school. Teachers, administrators, students, and even parents have stepped up since the pandemic began in early 2020, and she described how the empathy for others across the board is genuine and prevailing.
“There’s a lot of compassion right now, regardless of your role, and we’re all having to step up and put a hand in to help the school run,” she said. “I get a lot of support from my administration and there’s a handful of people I’ll talk to when I need, even if it is just to vent.”
Most of all, though, the passion Kuchenbrod has for music and teaching the next generation of musicians is outwardly clear. With their good energy, quirkiness, and humor, the relationship between her and her students has held up through the pandemic and will continue to motivate her.
“I feel like I understand my kids more because I saw them in their home spaces and learned what their life is like when they don’t have school to come to,” Kuchenbrod said. “I keep the students at the forefront of my vision and that will always allow me to keep my head above water, even during the toughest times.”