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COMIC: For Music Teacher, Virtual School Meant Teaching Kids 'To Hear The Way I Hear'

"If they turn all their mics on at once, it's chaos, and I have at least 40 kids per ensemble, so to get through all of them individually in one class is too much. So I thought, I have to teach them to hear the way I hear them."

It's been a year since teachers were handed an unprecedented request: educate students in entirely new ways amid the backdrop of a pandemic. In this comic series, we'll illustrate one teacher's story each week from now until the end of the school year.

Episode 4

Sarah Mamula, a high school orchestra teacher in Clark County Public Schools in Las Vegas, on shifting the paradigm.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

"I used to be a very strict teacher but the kids are drowning, and each kid needs a different life vest. We have to change our whole mindspace of what education is and what it looks like." — Sarah Mamula, high school teacher.
"My school has been [doing] virtual learning since the pandemic started. And I had a mini epiphany in September. where I was like ... I can't do this! I can't hear them! Our whole curriculum is based around me hearing and assessing them."
"Every class we do a listening. We pick one category — rhythm, tempo, intonation, articulation, dynamics and balance — and we pick a random YouTube video. They listen and write down every single thing they hear about that category."
"When we're playing together, we do it along with a recording. I call on random people to play with their mic on, so hopefully I can hear all of them at least by the end of the week."
"Some of the kids would get nervous to play in front of everyone, but I would say ... We're gonna try things. I've never done this before, you've never done this before. And if it does not work, please tell me, and then we'll change it.  They've been really patient with me."
"Your goals cannot be the same goals [as they were before]. That doesn't mean that quality has to suffer, just the goals have to be different."
We don't have live concerts, so I tried to make mini goals. "When we come back, you're going to be fourth-finger machines!" or "You're going to be like, so good at third position!"
"No one is behind, you know. We get to create what the standards are. Everything needs to be participation."
"The kids are working so hard, and I know the teachers and the parents are. We've just got to shift the paradigm a little bit."