I’m on a folding chair in the spare bedroom, holding an open picture book toward the iPad propped on boxes in front of me. Peering over the top Teacher, I ensure its illustrations are visible in my Zoom rectangle.

I periodically glance at the glowing screen to monitor audience engagement. The book depicts John Denver’s song, “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” and I sing over a simple guitar accompaniment created with my phone’s GarageBand app. As it cheerfully plays, I privately grimace when my voice peters out trying to sustain a note.

Though December marks my nineteenth month of teaching music to toddlers and preschoolers remotely, moments like this trigger an internal head shake at how I now spend my days.

In March 2020:

I had been working as the music teacher for nearly 20 years, teaching 25 classes per week. My large, bright classroom housed movement scarves and rhythm instruments, an upright piano and a speaker mounted in each corner. You galloped, jumped, flew and spun in that room every day. He bounced beach balls on a parachute. We gleefully threw bath-puff “snowballs” at each other. It clicked rhythm sticks, beat drums and jiggled egg shakers. But danced while bathed in swirling, multicolored disco lights. I share music, ideas and laughs. Then the Teacher world shut down.

My school, a leading early childhood center housed in the beautiful historic building where I attended elementary school, temporarily closed. For a few months, I was unemployed, wondering if I would ever teach again.
In May 2020, I gratefully heard I would still have a job. Not my job, though — not the one I had. My school altered procedures to keep the virus from wreaking havoc in an inherently germy environment. Children had to remain in their own classrooms and minimize travel in the building. Teachers needed to stay with one group of children.

To reduce children sharing spaces like my classroom, I would be teaching remotely. For the infants and younger toddlers who were too young for Zoom, I would make videos for their teachers and parents to share. For preschoolers and kindergartners, I would appear on a large TV that could be wheeled to each classroom at its designated music time.

My boss asked if I would be comfortable with Teacher.

I responded eagerly, while internally cringing at the thought of being on a screen. This might seem incongruous to those who know I have performed in improv comedy troupes for most of my adult life. However, I view performing as a shared experience, working as part of a team. I see teaching in the same light, working in collaboration with the children and other teachers.

In my own life, I shy away from solo public speaking. I rarely speak at meetings or even holiday dinners with more than a few family members. To continue working meant swallowing my discomfort and assuming a new position as a TV personality.

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Teacher Instead of my spacious classroom:

I was teaching in a tiny corner of a bedroom. I had to re-imagine my curriculum to fit this space and the restrictions of the Zoom frame. The technology was challenging, with choppy sound, frozen images and dropped calls the norm. You had to remind myself to occasionally look at the iPad’s camera to simulate eye contact. Even though that meant looking away from the children.

He was virtually meeting children and teachers new to the school. Desperately trying to memorize masked faces crammed into a single rectangle on an often blurry screen. We want to connect with these new children. To stay connected with the children I’d been teaching in person. They want our time together to be important. I also wanted to communicate more with the parents. Under the new policies they couldn’t enter the school building.
As difficult as it was to rework my curriculum and teaching methods, new possibilities appeared.

I got to know:

Zoom and recognized I was sharing aspects of my life that I couldn’t share in person. Most conspicuously, I was showing the students a small corner of where I live. Over the years, many children have thought that I live in my music room, and it’s been hard for them to comprehend that I have a life outside of school. I hung my bird clock on the wall behind me to incorporate a small piece of my classroom, and I’ve also used personal items as props and decorations. You had to remind myself to occasionally look at the iPad’s camera to simulate eye contact. Even though that meant looking away from the children.

I hung my bird clock on the wall behind me to incorporate a small piece of my classroom, and I’ve also used personal items as props and decorations. I retrieved dollhouse miniatures from my childhood — a diminutive bathtub and bed — and a turtle figurine to provide visuals for a song about a sick turtle. The furniture sparked conversation, a bit like my own personal show and tell.

My pet box turtle helped with class Teacher.

She is too leery of crowds and new environments for an in-person visit. She shone on Zoom and was more than ready for her close-up. In subsequent weeks, the kids eagerly asked to see her. I hung my bird clock on the wall behind me to incorporate a small piece of my classroom, and I’ve also used personal items as props and decorations. You had to remind myself to occasionally look at the iPad’s camera to simulate eye contact. Even though that meant looking away from the children.

I arranged to have my boyfriend play guitar for the kids. From his home 30 minutes away, he performed favorites like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” And though they’d never seen or heard about him previously, they eagerly played Name That Tune with him.