COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Precautions we can take in our instrumental lessons

Several weeks ago when Coronavirus was first spotlighted in the news as it began taking over China, I never thought in my wildest dreams that an article like this would be necessary. With the government seemingly (and finally!) beginning to tighten up their approach to dealing with this pandemic, here are some ideas of precautions that we can take as peripatetic teachers to protect not only our people, but ourselves, too.

Keep instruments clean.

Despite Coronavirus, instrument care and maintenance should eventually be taught to all of our learners. I know it can seem like a dull topic, especially if your learners are raring to go. But, we are here first and foremost to care deeply about our learners’ wellbeing and education. The topic of personal and what I’ll coin ‘instrumental’ hygiene should now be rolled into our curriculum, if it isn’t already. Don’t worry about how dull you think the lesson may be – if you keep it learner led and full of positivity, care and enthusiasm, you won’t go wrong.

Sit with as much space between yourself and your learner as possible.

I’ve been following the news consistently since the virus had hit the UK. I’ve read about recommendations to sit no less than one metre away from other people, and I’ve also seen distances of up to two metres suggested. This may be impractical to us as peripatetic teachers due to the fact that some practise rooms can be as small as 2m². My thoughts are that we should sit as far apart from our learners as possible, and sit so that you aren’t face on with your learners wherever practical.

Consider space between individuals in your ensembles.

Where possible, I’d suggest a minimum distance between your leaners of around 1 square metre. If this isn’t possible due to space constraints in your practise space, I’d consider cancelling the ensembles.

Encourage learners to wash their hands before using guitars, particularly if the guitar belongs to the school.

This goes without saying. If your learners are borrowing an instrument from the school for the lesson, consider how many hands could touch that guitar in a single week, particularly on the days when you are not working in the school. It isn’t unreasonable to consider the fact that a guitar could be touched by a minimum of 50 learners per week. Each of those learners are going to have varying views of, and urgency about personal hygiene, and they are obviously also going to come into contact with other people via socialising. The variables and opportunities for a virus to be spread in these situations are exponential, and it is only right that we encourage and expect our learners to be mindful of their personal hygiene.

Encourage your learners to take ownership of their own instrument tuning.

In my opinion, every student regardless of age and ability should be able to tune their instruments as a foundational skill. However, if you learner needs help, aim to avoid the temptation of tuning their guitar yourself. Use the opportunity to help them develop a new skill.

Don’t make physical contact with your learners.

A total absence of physical contact in lessons should be a principle adhered to by all teachers, regardless of any health related reasoning. I once heard from a representative of the Musician’s Union, that if a teacher needs to physically guide (touch) their learner during the teaching process, then they are failing in their practise as a teacher. However, if you are the kind of teacher, like me, that likes to give out occasional high fives for exceptional work – with the learner’s consent, of course! – then this should be considered. Maybe exchange a ‘high five’ for a ‘high elbow’ instead. Or, just don’t bother and resort to verbal praise only.

Allow fresh air to circulate your lesson space.

This won’t only help you to regulate the temperature and humidity of your lesson space, but will also allow any stale air to flow freely out of your room to make way for fresher air. If it only makes your lesson space more comfortable, then this is worth doing.

Wash and sanitise your own hands.

If you are lucky enough to get your hands on some sanitiser, use it, but use it sparingly. If not, make regular hand washing part of your teaching routine.

If you need to sneeze or cough, catch it in your sleeve.

I’ve been caught out countlessly by freak sneezes in my time. It isn’t always possible to anticipate a cough or a sneeze, but it is well worth missing a bar or two of music to reduce the risk of passing anything on to our learners in the midst of our teaching, even if it is just a little spittle. Even without the coronavirus, I make a point of containing coughs and sneezes somehow.

Raise awareness of your needs, don’t assume your department leader will consider your instrumental hygiene requirements.

My expectations are that subject leaders will be very supportive of you if you approach them and show them how conscientious you are about caring for your learners. Have open conversations with other teachers on your team or in your department, particularly if you share instruments with them and their classes. Make them aware of the ways viruses and bacteria can be transmitted from a learner, to an instrument, then onwardly to the next user of the instrument if personal hygiene measures aren’t considered.

Don’t let your ‘earnings’ cloud your judgement.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, arguably our main responsibility to our learners before we even pick our instrument up is to care for their wellbeing deeply. If you feel you are ill or displaying even the slightest symptoms of  having Coronavirus, make the right choice and self isolate. I understand that a lot of us are self employed, and as a result may inherently be unable to enjoy sick pay, but you can always earn your money on another day. However, re-establishing your respect, reputation and trust of your people could be costly.

Final words.

Naturally, I’m approaching this post from my own perspective of being a guitar teacher. These suggestions may not be completely suitable for your instrument, or may simply be irrelevant. Maybe I haven’t mentioned something that is relevant to you? Whatever it is that you feel you can share with others, please share it either as a comment on this post, or via your own sharing platform.

Most importantly, be vigilant and consider any action that involves some kind of contact by proxy. Stay safe.

Jay

(image thanks to shutterstock)

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