We’ve returned to school, after months of online teaching. Half my spare room is a studio, my wife on the other side, headphones on, somehow managing to ignore me and keep up her workload. The logistics were tough in the first big lockdown, stuck in a tiny flat in London with a toddler who had no nursery, us tag-teaming work and childcare. Now we’ve moved to the countryside. With nurseries open, our boy has had a more active social life than anyone.
Still, this lockdown was somehow harder. Perhaps it was something in the glimpses I get into youngsters’ home lives. As weeks passed, I could feel strain emanating through many webcams. I resolved not to put any pressure on students – only encourage them to enjoy playing and learn to use music as an escape hatch. Being honest, my resolve has been tested.
Making the lessons work was sometimes impossible. Some students missed most of their time, regularly arriving late, if at all. When they showed up they weren’t ready. They get the guitar out of the case, tune it, hunt for a pick, go to the other room to get their music, come back, forget where they put the pick, drop the guitar, realise it needs to be retuned. Once they finally start to play, they can’t remember anything. And then it’s end of the lesson. The mum of one of these students said she’d “make him pay for the lessons” if he missed any more. She’d been one of the most unreliable payers in all my teaching years. Thankfully these situations were rare.
Most students were very engaged. Several picked up a guitar in the first lockdown and then signed up for lessons. They’ve all hit the ground running and are making astonishing progress. One other lad had some health problems and sadly missed some lessons before Xmas. When he returned online, he played so evocatively it affected me emotionally. That moment was a high point of my entire teaching career so far.
With the approach of the return to school last week, some students were clearly desperate to be back and some were terrified. On the day, all of them were brilliant. No exceptions.
Luckily I no longer teach the boy who, in a lesson between lockdowns, used his hand to wipe his nose under his mask – before picking up a shared guitar. Something made me ask him when he’d last washed his hands. He looked at me as if I’d asked how many kangaroos he’d eaten for lunch. “Um… This morning at home?” He said. It was the middle of the afternoon.
On the return, it was wonderful to play with students live. It’s the main focus of how I teach and it’s technically impossible online.
I’ve told everyone that we are going to play together as much as we can. Everyone can learn whatever they want. This week I taught everything from Bach to TEQUILA by The Champs. Pretty much everyone left with a smile on their face – so far as I could see under the masks.