The View From The Floor: A Teacher's Post-COVID Exhaustion

June 11, 2021, 11:35 PM · Somehow, I always find myself on the floor at the end of the school year. It doesn't seem to matter if I have a perfectly lovely writing desk next to me (which I do), or multiple seating options to choose from - when I hit a certain level of exhaustion, I just go to the floor.

And I *am* exhausted, as I imagine many of you out there reading this are, especially the teachers of the world. I’m trying to summon the energy to do anything, and I keep looking at my ceiling. The cats occasionally come to check on me. This end-of-school-year, pandemic-still-going exhaustion goes down to my bones.

Tired teacher

I’m tired of the anxiety every time I check my email, tired of trying to troubleshoot technology problems, tired from the last year plus of feeling like going outside was putting my life in danger, tired from the fear that no matter how much effort I put into my online lessons and classes that students would leave my studio (because as one person put it to me, “You’ve done a great job, but in-person will always be better.”) and I’d be unable to pay my new mortgage, tired as I look at my new schedule which for the first time in a year will feature a combination of online AND in-person lessons which will require extra time, coordination, and safety protocols. There’s a lot to be grateful for, and I am. And I have a lot of privileges, which I am aware and for which I am grateful, but I am still so tired.

The world would have me believe that now is the time to be energized. Marketing emails for summer programs are pouring into my inbox, encouraging me not to miss out, to take my playing to new heights, or to give my students the experience of a lifetime. I read them and admire the creativity, and then I feel tired. Does it make me a bad violinist/teacher/human that all I want to do is lay on my floor right now?

Things are opening up. The COVID seven-day positivity rate is down to around one percent in my county. I'm fully vaccinated, as is my husband. I can hug my mom again. I continue to see live, in-person concerts advertised. People are announcing their new teaching appointments, their new albums, their new chamber music initiatives. I wonder if I should be doing more to stay relevant as the world begins the slow, messy, awkward return to in-person life.

I have a small recital planned for myself later this month with a pianist friend, to push myself out the door and to remind myself that I'm an actual violinist, not just inept IT support who has to start most lessons by saying "Can you turn on your original sound?" even during the last week of lessons for the semester. I love the music I’ve chosen. The first rehearsal with the pianist was affirming and joyful in so many ways. But my brain just can’t seem to focus long enough to practice seriously.

I end every semester with my students by asking them to reflect on what they've learned, what they've experienced, how they've grown, what they're proud of themselves for, how they feel about an impending return to in-person lessons. The conversations this week have been interesting and show me just how messy and awkward that return will be. Some students are raring to go - in fact, they would've had in-person lessons this whole time, vaccinated or no, as the emails I've gotten from a few parents have indicated.

Most students have found some silver linings to the online lessons, whether it was the built-in recording feature of Zoom that allowed them to assess their own playing more regularly, the ability to really get close up and see details of technique, or just being able to learn in the comfort of their own home. All of us miss being able to play duets and play together, in real time.

One of my students said that she's just so tired of the mental load of being online - making sure the internet is working, staying in frame, setting the audio just right, having things cut out and not being able to hear everything, and I really connected with that. I've gotten used to it, but I will be so happy to not have to worry if the wifi connection is strong enough.

And a few students aren't ready to return to in-person lessons - they like not having a commute, they or someone in their family isn't able to be vaccinated because of age or underlying condition, or they don't want to return until in-person life is exactly like it was pre-pandemic, with no restrictions. I absolutely want what's best for my students and for them and their families to feel comfortable with lessons, online or in-person, but the mental and emotional effort of affirming all of those viewpoints and thinking about the logistics involved in managing that...yeah. The transition back is going to be a long, messy, and awkward, I'm sure. And we're not going back to how life was before. It's a brave new world, and the pandemic isn't over yet.

If you're ready and excited to jump back into in-person stuff and that feels great and energizes you, that's awesome. Power to you!

But if you're feeling a little more like me, with all of the news about summer festivals, concerts coming back, and the pressure to jump back in flooding inboxes and social media feeds - I just wanted to say:

It’s okay if you just want to lay on your floor. It's okay if the idea of playing in front of people freaks you out. It's okay if you need to spend a few days (or a week) sleeping instead of practicing. It's okay if you don't have the mental bandwidth to practice self-care the way people on Instagram say you should. It's okay if you need to spend this summer recovering from the GLOBAL FREAKING PANDEMIC NIGHTMARE we've all been living through and if you don't have your best summer ever. It's really okay.

My hope for us all is that we are able to take the time and space to truly rest, to do what connects each of us to ourselves and to our music in a free and joyful way, and that in doing so, we can begin to find our footing in this new space. After some sleep. A lot of it. And maybe just a little more time here on the floor.

Replies

June 12, 2021 at 02:53 PM · As an adult violin student, I want to thank you and all other teachers for your work throughout this enigmatic time in our lives. I experienced 55 online lessons since the start of this pandemic, and as odd as it was, I'd say those lessons had a lot to do with getting me through these fifteen months of isolation. They gave me goals and reasons for getting up in the mornings and practicing. The lessons gave me time to reflect and plan what I want to do with each lesson, and they helped me plan and hope for the future. I'd look forward to those lessons, the laughter, the bits of conversation, the united work to improve my playing, and the celebration that life was going to move forward. So thank you for your work under limited conditions. This pandemic will end, but the memory of how teachers like yourself kept things moving forward will not fade, but will be remembered and appreciated by your students.

June 12, 2021 at 04:50 PM · Thank you Claire! I myself am exhausted too. I wonder in a few months when (or if) things are somewhat back to normal, if I will stop online lessons altogether because of the year it reminds me of. For example, I moved my online teaching studio to a well lighted, cheerful spot in our basement with room for my digital piano and instruments. It was a bright spot for me during the pandemic, but now that I am teaching in person and online lessons at the regular studio, I walk by that basement spot and get depressed. It reminds me too much of a difficult year, and I never want to teach from there again. I see it like a dungeon now. Once all my students are in person, I may have to exercise self control in not deleting my video apps all together, because I have a feeling I may never want to log on to Skype or others again. I remember trying cheer up my depressed young students by letting them set their stuffed animals up in their room while they had their lesson. It was cute at the time, but my heart aches when I think of it now, because I remembe why I was trying to cheer them up.

Thank you Micheal, that does mean a lot. It was also my students that kept me going in a difficult time. No matter how tired or anxious I would feel at the start of the day, spending time with students online would always cheer me up. It helps to know that music helped many people get through such a difficult time.

June 12, 2021 at 05:19 PM · Thank you so much, Michael. I'm so glad your teacher was able to give you something to look forward to and that your lessons were a moment of joy in the midst of the pandemic!

June 12, 2021 at 06:00 PM · Claire, et al.,

I almost feel bad saying this: This past year has been one of the best ones of my lifetime. My wife and I are introverts and like people in small quantities and short time frames. Over a year ago when all the orders to "lockdown" were coming we looked at each other and agreed, "We don't have to invent excuses to stay home!"

I have only a few violin students and I'm retired with a good income and my lessons are not a source of income for me. I found that online lessons worked best when turned to daily 15 minute mini-lessons where the concentration was on only one thing, a skill, a phrase, a difficult passage,... The daily lesson also translated into a better practice pattern.

Did it work 100%? No, one student's intonation suffered from the lack of playing in unison. Another suffered from the collective effect of everything online and no people other than family. Yet others blossomed gaining skills slowly and maintaining them to the point where they advanced more than anticipated and one moved to the next teacher having to add fifth position (my osteoarthritic hands prevent me from playing above fourth position now - eventually it will stop me altogether).

I'm sad for all who struggled and your day is returning. In the meantime my wife and I have to rebuild our list of excuses as to why we have to stay home and decline the invitation.

June 13, 2021 at 01:00 PM · George, I understand completely. This last year has been a real eye opener for me about my relationships with people. I've resolved to keep pulled back because things are going so much better now.

June 13, 2021 at 02:45 PM · Michael, your comments are so encouraging! I will say it goes both ways - during the worst and most isolating days of the pandemic, I was so happy to still be able to teach my students, interact with them, and watch their progress. Many did actually find more time to practice, and I like to think that their devotion to the violin and music helped them as well.

I have felt reluctant in some ways about “returning to normal” - mostly because by now it feels like a big change. But with every student who is returning in-person, I find I am immensely happy to see them, and yes, it really is easier to teach and communicate, both ways.

June 13, 2021 at 04:07 PM · I grew so accustomed to the online lessons, that I completely forgot the huge advantage of having a teacher next to me while I play. She was able to assess me from every angle, reach out and correct a finger or an elbow, and we rediscovered the joy of playing duets. Not to get too sappy (but, so what, right? Let's get good and sappy here.) When I went to my first in-person lesson in 15 months, it was like going from Black & White to Technicolor, For those of you who are too young to appreciate that comparison, I will provide this visual aid.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6D8PAGelN8

June 14, 2021 at 01:21 AM · George, you're very fortunate that both your financial situation and your temperament made the pandemic an enjoyable and workable situation for you.

And yes, Laurie, I agree - I am SO amazed at how my students have all grown and progressed online. I will be forever grateful to the self-view on Zoom and FaceTime for allowing so many of them to fix crooked bows, and for pre-recorded audition and recital videos for getting them to record themselves more and be more aware of their playing!

Michael, I cannot WAIT to play duets with my students again! I've also been avoiding teaching the Bach Double this year because it's just not worth it to me without both parts.

I think it's also okay to just be tired - and I think the transition back to in-person is going to be challenging in many new ways as well.

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