David Asman: What’s right about what we’re doing with online schooling – A music teacher’s perspective

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Meadowlark Elementary School teacher John Arthur interacting with his students on Zoom, in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. Arthur is working through the kinks of teaching his sixth grade kids, many of which don't have internet access, online. He is a candidate for Utah Teacher of the Year.

In Michelle Quist’s column on Thursday, “Online schooling is a fire inside a train wreck,” she opines that there’s a lot of bad news in our world today, and that on top of that list, it’s the worst for our kids. That last part is where our opinions diverge.

I am a music teacher in the Salt Lake City School District, the only district in Utah treating students and their families, teachers, administrators and staff alike with the appropriate amount of respect for life by teaching almost entirely online.

Contrary to what Quist reported, the district is not 100% online. In order to be as safe as possible, a very small number of exceptions are being made for students with special needs, taking into account that remote learning for that population is untenable. If large groups of students were allowed in the building simultaneously, it would defeat the purpose of creating the safest possible environment for those who absolutely need to be in person.

I am proud to say that the difficult situation we all find ourselves in is being navigated by teachers, administrators and staff with the greatest amount of love, care, compassion, sweat and tears humanly possible. Is our job done? Far from it. Is it, as Quist suggests, a “hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck”? Far from it.

Yes, children miss their friends. The social impact on teens and all students for that matter is something that will require a tremendous amount of care and attention as we make every effort to get back to what will assuredly be a new normal.

Quist says the children in the Salt Lake City School District are the only ones being asked to “bear this burden among their peers.” Bear this burden? Really? There’s so much we don’t know about this pandemic, including the long-lasting, if not permanent, effects that COVID-19 will have on a large part of our population. What about the burden of a child unknowingly bringing home the virus and unwittingly sharing it with a sibling, parent, aunt, uncle or grandparent?

I for one, applaud Interim Superintendent Larry Madden, as well as the Salt Lake City School Board, for being steadfast in their concern, not only for the students, teachers, administration and staff, but for the families of all the above.

I certainly acknowledge that grading has its own set of challenges in this climate. As music teachers, we are using the opportunity to hold our students accountable — yes, even in music, an area of learning deservedly on par with any other subject our students are fortunate enough to study. As we are a few weeks away from finalizing grades, having realistic and high expectations for our students sometimes results in coming to grips with the high caliber of work that’s needed to attain the grade desired.

That said, knowing full well that this is an unusual time, we teachers are meeting regularly to find creative and compassionate solutions with regard to the grades that will be earned.

Quist goes on to say that “We’re creating computer zombies who hate school and not even talking about it.” Assuredly, there are some students who are having a very hard time navigating school in a remote setting and will certainly happily return to face-to-face learning. But what about the students who are doing exceptionally well now, with parents that are so appreciative of what their children’s teachers are doing for, and with them? We’re receiving amazing work submitted from students we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see otherwise.

Here are two examples from parents. “Joan (pseudonym) really loves her music class. Thank you for making it so enjoyable for her. We will buy her a violin for her birthday.” Another parent expressed her thanks for all we are doing to bring quality content in such a unique time and for our messages of encouragement and efforts to help the kiddos succeed.

True, this scenario for learning needs constant attention, especially for the sake of our students who are struggling. However, to say it’s not working at all is doing a disservice to those dedicated teachers and the entire community who strive for it to be the best it can be.

David Asman

David Asman is an elementary music specialist in the Salt Lake City School District.