Greensboro band teacher ends each online lesson day with song for students

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Music is considered to be a universal language, which is why Justin Thomas feels it is absolutely crucial for his students to be able to listen to it. 

“Students from all backgrounds can have a part,” Thomas said. “When you’re teaching band, you’re cultivating a family because you’re with each other all of the time.” 

The Western Guilford Middle School teacher has around 185 students walk into his class each day. Since COVID-19 shut down the campuses, that’s 185 students who he has to teach online now.

Band presents its own unique challenges compared to traditional courses. Band instructors have to make sure their students are building proper playing techniques for their chosen instrument.

Transitioning that process to a virtual environment has been the most difficult thing for Thomas to adapt to.

“You’re [not] able to stop and say, ‘no, I need you to place your hands here. You’ve got to go down here for this position,’” Thomas said.

He found a way to make instructional videos for his students. Each day he makes around six videos for the six different levels his students are at in terms of their playing. 

He makes an effort to show them he’s at his piano, and he’s working with them every step of the way.

“You actually have to sit down and play,” Thomas said. “It shows that I sit down and play as well.” 

When his students aren’t getting it, he will allow them to schedule a time to call using the school approved websites to allow him to coach them through their songs.

“I want them to know that while we are working through this new normal, I’ve got my new normal. You’ve got your new normal. We can make our new normals work.” Thomas said.

The most important part of his day comes toward the end of class. 

He creates a bass-line beat and comes up with a song for his students to listen to as they end their day. 

“One day I was just kind of sitting here, and my mind just wasn’t at ease,” Thomas said. “And when I was explaining it to them that when I’m stressed, or feeling a type of way, I block everything out, and I just sit down and play.” 

Thomas does this in hopes that it will help ease any anxiety his students maybe feeling as each day presents its own challenges. 

“That just kind of helps me get back to where I need to be. And so I thought to myself, for a lot of students how many of them need that same getaway, that same little minute just to bring them back.” 

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