This is an interview-style Blog with Mark Asch, who has been a school music teacher for 10 years in suburban and urban schools. He's had more than 5000 students in every grade from Pre-K to 12 and was a recipient of the prestigious Jersey City Arts Award in Arts Education in 2020.
As an educator, what are your feelings about the current state of COVID in relation to bringing kids back to school indoors, and how does in-person learning change their family interactions? Nearly every aspect of teaching and learning is diminished during remote learning, but the only thing that is clearly worse than having school from home is returning to a situation that is unsafe. Having the kids at home all day raises all sorts of challenges, though. Technical issues, communication issues, and trying to have multiple people do different tasks in the same space can all be very stressful, and many kids find it difficult to be in “school mode” when they’re in their own homes. What can parents/guardians do to make virtual learning smoother? Reduce distractions. I often have to deal with students who have phones or iPads or televisions accessible during classes! If possible, check on them at random times to make sure that their cameras are on and they are engaged. Also, for kids in 7th grade and under, have your child show you their work online regularly so that they remember you’ll be fully aware of their efforts, and praise and reward them for doing well. I’ve found that by 8th grade, it is essential to let go a bit and give them less scrutiny. You won’t know if they are able to handle their responsibilities alone until you give them the opportunity to fail, and that should happen before high school, when grades start becoming more consequential. What perspective can you share about kids personal abilities to deal with social isolation and loneliness, and how this could affect their parents/guardians ability to maintain a harmonious home? Different ages present different issues, but nearly everything is made better with socialization and exercise, which is not to suggest that it is always easy to make these things happen! Schedule video calls with family and friends and have in-person visits outdoors, following appropriate safety protocols, when possible. When your kids aren’t communicative with you, have a friend or relative ask them what they’re up to—they may feel freer talking about things with someone other than the people they feel are constantly judging them. What resources do you know of for parents who need to virtually connect and blow off steam? I suggest actually speaking with someone you trust, and I'm a fan of the need2Bheard model. Texting and social media have acquired their own important niches in our lives, but they are terribly lacking in nuance and are part of a trend toward lives that are, as some say, a mile wide but an inch deep. Nothing is more effective than honest conversation when it comes to positively addressing many of the specific, personal issues that affect us.
If you could give advice to parents/guardians who are struggling with the effects of COVID in terms of their relationship with their kids, what would that be? Specific praise goes a long way. Superficial praise such as “you’re a great kid” is nice but doesn’t promote the kind of resilience and self-esteem that children need to cope with stressful situations such as having a sick loved one or being isolated. Also, people need “inside” and “outside” perspectives about their circumstances, and children are no different in this regard. Kids need other kids to process their experiences with their families. Is there anything else you might deem relevant to the conversation? Children learn from adults how to deal with the world, how to resolve problems, how to maintain a schedule, and a million other behaviors ranging from the most subtle to the most overt. The kids are always watching and listening, and this puts parents under a lot of pressure. But use schedules to make the day more predictable, and use specific praise to keep things positive.