Teaching in a Pandemic: Alumni Face Challenges and Nurture Passions as First-Time Music Educators

Gettysburg alumni Brooke Maskin '20 (left) and Ben Fruchtl '20 (right) are first-time music educators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gettysburg alumni Brooke Maskin ’20 (left) and Ben Fruchtl ’20 (right) are first-time music educators during the COVID-19 pandemic (Photos courtesy of Peter Francis ’21 and Ben Fruchtl ’20)

By Julia Dortch, Contributing Writer, and Lily Zhou, A&E Editor

Teaching and learning in a pandemic have presented many challenges for both educators and students around the world. After graduating virtually back in May, Ben Fruchtl ‘20 and Brooke Maskin ‘20 have already been able to experience both sides of the coin — they are currently navigating their first few months as music teachers in a virtual setting. 

Fruchtl is teaching elementary school music in Frederick, Maryland. Despite the pandemic, Fruchtl graduated from Gettysburg College feeling ready to take on his first teaching job. “I’m of the perspective that you cannot be prepared for every circumstance in every single way,” he said. 

Fruchtl explained that the pandemic didn’t stop Gettysburg students from teaching in a “very fulfilling way.”  Student teaching opportunities and the finding music resources website allowed him to feel prepared for his first teaching job. “The website gave us the resources, while the secondary placement gave us the pedagogy and practice to put into the classroom. Then, all I had to do  was translate [that knowledge] into an elementary school setting, which, given my proclivity for being with elementary school students, was easier than I expected.”

Safety has been a primary concern for Fruchtl during the pandemic. “It’s really good to be in a place that is supportive in that way,” he explained. 

Fruchtl also worries about his students during these uncertain times. “Another concern I had,” he explained, “was trying to work in a way where the students still felt welcomed and supported by some semblance of a community.” Fruchtl highlighted how students were disappointed when they discovered that they couldn’t participate in activities where they could be in contact with one another, like recess.

Alumni Brooke Maskin '20 (left) and Ben Fruchtl '20 performing at President Iuliano's inauguration (Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

Alumni Brooke Maskin ’20 (left) and Ben Fruchtl ’20 performing at President Iuliano’s inauguration (Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

Despite these concerns, Fruchtl feels he has made a positive impact on his students. “I had an assignment today that used a song called ‘Who are you?,’” he said. He proceeded to sing a song about a yellow bird, and students introduced themselves during the musical experience. “I would make a little yellow bird out of pipe cleaners and wave it around the computer screen,” he explained. “For an assignment, they recorded the song for me so I could hear their singing voices, but I also gave them a craft to make their own yellow bird. Seeing their videos and different bird creations was really cool.”

Fruchtl has also been able to use the language skills he developed during his Spanish courses at Gettysburg to communicate with families in a predominantly Spanish-speaking community. 

“Teaching is incredibly fun and is an extension of my identity. If I can help students to find their identities, then I am doing my job.” – Ben Fruchtl ’20

For Fruchtl, the most difficult part about teaching in a pandemic is that he can’t be in the same physical space as his students. While he only gets to see them in what he describes as “a lovely set of twenty boxes on a screen,” he feels fortunate to still be able see “very clear moments of character.” He recalls moments where students would stay on calls to show him a piano piece or when he got a group “laughing like crazy” over a marching band joke. The interactions he does have with students remind him of why he got into teaching in the first place. 

“Teaching is incredibly fun and is an extension of my identity. If I can help students to find their identities, then I am doing my job,” he said. 

Fruchtl’s advice to anyone who would like to pursue music education or teaching in general is “to make teaching and music [about] what resonates with you. Don’t feel confined by the labels of being a teacher!”

Brooke Maskin, another recent Gettysburg College graduate, also described the challenges she’s currently facing while pursuing a teaching career during the pandemic. When asked about what she imagined her first experience as a teacher would be like, her response was: “if you would have asked me that before 2020 started, [I] definitely [wouldn’t have answered] with a pandemic.” 

Alumni Ben Fruchtl '20 (left) and Brooke Maskin '20 are working as music teachers for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic (Photo courtesy of Ben Fruchtl and Brooke Maskin)

Alumni Ben Fruchtl ’20 (left) and Brooke Maskin ’20 are working as music teachers for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic (Photo courtesy of Ben Fruchtl and Brooke Maskin)

Still, despite the challenges, Maskin explained that she felt prepared to teach music during a time like this. Maskin was hired as a middle school choir teacher at Woodcliff Middle School in New Jersey. The school board is not allowing band or choir classes to gather in-person this school year, so every music teacher is required to teach a course called Music Appreciation. Maskin is also teaching grades K-2 in a course entitled General Music, because the music teacher for that grade retired a week before the school year began. She and the band teacher split the classes up between the two of them. Despite the surprise of working two jobs at once, Maskin said that she loves it.

One of the highlights that Maskin shared about her time as a music teacher was when the school board asked her to create a parody song relating to the beginning of school and “COVID madness.” She created a parody to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and called it “Stop COVID Now.” Her video was posted to YouTube and shared with her entire district.

“I teach to inspire. I teach to share my passion for music with others, and show them that music is such an integral part of our human experience.” – Brooke Maskin ’20

Although teaching in a pandemic is certainly not something that Maskin had expected, the rewarding feeling of influencing a child’s life is worth it for her. “I teach to inspire. I teach to share my passion for music with others, and show them that music is such an integral part of our human experience,” said Maskin. “Music can connect with any other subject.” Maskin also strives to challenge students to have a worldwide view of music, and to  “broaden their listening ears.”

According to Maskin, her education at Gettysburg College is a big part of why she was offered her current teaching job. “Gettysburg taught me how important it is to make meaningful connections,” she said. 

Some advice that Maskin shared for anyone who is thinking about pursuing a career in music is “to not be afraid to put yourself out there … [or] … post on social media, [because] you never know who will notice you.” 

Despite these uncertain times, both Maskin and Fruchtl are pursuing their passion. Being a teacher is incredibly challenging, but the work ethic of these Gettysburgians is incredibly admirable. Their adjustment to this new normal has not been smooth, but it has been doable due to their preparation and dedication. 

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Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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