I’m going to preface this with the fact that I understand that this isn’t the experience we all had. I know that there are many programs (whether willingly or not) that had fall seasons in 2020. And to those people I just want to say that I have absolutely no idea how you managed to pull yourselves through and I commend you on doing a job well done under impossible circumstances. I had days last fall where I could barely drag myself out of bed to walk the five feet for my work from home, let alone run a program through a pandemic. I know it might not be the popular opinion, but we have to shout those people out for doing what needed to be done even if we don’t think it was what should have been done.
But that’s not what I am here to talk about. I’m here to talk about the rest of those. Those of us who were forced to all but completely shut down (or entirely shut down) and the challenges we’re seeing pop up as we begin to navigate the reopening and restarting of our programs. From having to train essentially an entirely new guard, to staffing, to negotiating with our school districts, there are so many challenges I did not see coming and now that we’re going into the thick of it, we need to start talking about it.
First off, training. For those of us who were pushed to teaching color guard remotely (an impossible task by any stretch of the imagination), we’re starting to see the expected outcome of a year-long shut down. It has been many many moons since I have had the task of restarting a program from essentially scratch as I’ve been at my current program now for almost ten years and even when I inherited it, it was already an established program with a great culture. When coronavirus hit, I was thrust into survival mode as I did everything within not only my own power but also within the restrictions put in place to keep that energy going and that culture alive.
To some extent, I am proud to say I think I had succeeded. Sure, the culture is shaken but from what I have been able to see, it isn’t broken. We are still navigating the reality that the last time we saw this senior class, they were sophomores but we’ve put in place some new ideas to get the group back together in a way that I think will help in the long run. First, a robust and logical summer rehearsal schedule. In years past, I have tried upping our summer practices and was met with resistance but this year the kids are clamoring for practice. Two, camps throughout the summer are allowing the kids to get to know each other on meal breaks and long days and reform those friendships. And third, technique videos. We spent part of lockdown recording kids doing our technique warm ups and used iMovie to make little videos breaking each down so the kids have those resources when they rehearse at home. So far, I think it’s working.
The second point I want to touch on is one that I quite honestly don’t have an answer for and would love some comments on what everyone thinks and that is staffing. There is a major staffing shortage in my area. We all know that teaching isn’t the gig that is going to pay the bills. If it were, being a color guard instructor would be way more competitive and kids would be going for blood over marching in any drum corps they could for the experience to allow them to teach. But the reality is that we don’t do this for the money and the ones who did dropped off during the pandemic as we saw paychecks dry up. We also saw those who weren’t getting paid enough already back out for other opportunities, essentially forced out of the activity to make a different life for themselves. And can we fault them?
It’s also important to have an honest conversation about the differences across the country in how our school districts are negotiating the pandemic. As a director in the California Bay Area, this meant a total shut down for nearly 15 months. Other schools have been allowed to have essentially full seasons and continued in person training and performance opportunities. So where do we stand? Scholastic color guard in California is already constantly fighting an uphill battle with how we get funded and rehearsal spaces and the cost of living. And now we are all asked to essentially start from scratch. I don’t have an answer to this. I don’t even know how to start a conversation around but I would really like to try.
None of these issues have easy answers. None of them will be solved overnight. My purpose here is simply to call it like I see it and allow others to offer their viewpoints. I’m just another educator attempting to make sense of an illogical situation. I just want to do best by my kids. I want them to have the same opportunities that I was afforded when I was marching. But in order for that to happen, we need a change. Real change. We need to share ideas on how to best train our kids without feeling like we’re “helping the competition”, we need to pay our people what they deserve, and we need to work as a community to advocate with school boards to help the activity grow.
I love color guard and I am glad it’s back. But the work has just begun.