After nearly 40 years in music education, Christie Aleshire has decided to resign her position as music teacher at Century Elementary School.

The coronavirus pandemic “probably was a deciding factor,” said Aleshire, noting the uncertainty about how the impact of COVID-19 will affect education.

That uncertainty surrounds the way in-person instruction, including music classes, will be delivered in schools in the next academic year, she said.

“Everybody’s trying to figure it out,” Aleshire said. “I don’t think anybody knows what to expect.”

She and her fellow music educators are closely watching and weighing the results of research studies on how singing and blowing through wind and brass instruments affects young musicians and those around them.

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“In my field, with what we do, it’s really hard to social distance,” she said. “Everything we do is done in groups or close.”

By its very nature, music is all about socially interacting, according to Aleshire.

“Students are playing instruments in close proximity -- that’s how it should be," she said, noting that at the elementary level, “we dance, we partner up, we play instruments."

“Music -- and the arts -- is a very social learning experience, and that poses some interesting scenarios when you’re masked and not supposed to share instruments or anything," said Aleshire, pointing out that the aerosols emitted from instruments and by singing can spread particles containing the virus through the air.

With social distancing and other restrictions and tactics she expects will be in place in schools, she questions whether that is the way music should be taught.

For this coming school year, returning to the classroom was a bridge too far.

“I was nervous (about continuing to teach),” she said, “because it’s an unknown.”

Difficult decision

The decision to resign was not an easy one, Aleshire said.

“It was extremely difficult to make. I love what I do and I love the kids, and I love Grand Forks schools. When it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood," said Aleshire, who was enjoying her most recent assignment, which ran four years at Century Elementary School.

“I loved it at Century,” she said. “If the pandemic hadn’t hit, I probably wouldn’t have resigned. I probably would have gone for a year or two more.”

Another factor in her decision is concern for her mother, who lives in Washington state and has had some health issues, she said. It has been difficult -- and may be more difficult in the future -- to find substitutes to fill in for her when she travels to visit her mother.

"I’m concerned. I’m 60; I’m healthy, but I’m a little concerned," she said.

With all the changes she expects to see in the classroom, she wondered how those changes would affect her ability to teach.

“For me, that was a little disheartening,” she said. “It’s going to be so different.”

Aleshire wanted to end her career in a positive fashion.

“I wanted to go out on a high note,” she said, not trying to figure out how to teach music with all the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

Fulfilling career

Aleshire, who grew up in Tioga, N.D., attended Minot State College, now Minot State University. She took graduate courses at the University of Minnesota and earned a master’s degree from UND.

Aleshire taught vocal and instrumental music during a career that took her to Wilton, Rugby and New Rockford, N.D., before she joined the Grand Forks school system in 1989. She started as a band director at South Junior High, now South Middle School, before accepting a position as assistant band director at Grand Forks Central High School in 1997.

While at Grand Forks Central, in 1999, she launched the first drumline group in Grand Forks -- a step copied by other music teachers later at Red River and East Grand Forks high schools.

Aleshire retired in the spring of 2016 but “was hired back right away,” she said, when the school district recruited her to begin teaching part-time that fall at Century Elementary School. There she taught music to kindergarteners and first-graders.

“I had four sections, five days a week -- so I had close to 200 kids,” she said.

For students at that early developmental level, she focused on teaching them “a skill set on behavior, how to manage themselves” during the class, she said. “I taught movement, singing, rhythm.”

“I would be starting my 39th year this (school) year,” said Aleshire, noting that the challenges brought on by the pandemic made her decision feel "sort of final."

Teachers are ‘nervous’

Other teachers in the Grand Forks school district have concerns about returning to the classroom too, according to Aleshire.

“I think they’re nervous -- yeah, I do," said Aleshire, who noted teachers are dealing with a seemingly unlimited list of questions and a host of unknowns. “Do they want to get back and teach? Yes. (But) there are so many questions.”

Aleshire emphasized she is pleased with the way school district administrators have dealt with the pandemic so far.

“I do think our district is doing a super job keeping us informed,” she said. “I’m very proud to be part of this district.”

The situation confronting schools “is hard to win,” Aleshire said, noting that there will always be those who are not going to be happy with decisions that are made.

“It’s an experiment,” she said. “It’s an experiment with kids.”

As for her decision to leave teaching, she’s comfortable with it.

“I’ve had a good run,” she said.

When asked what she’ll miss most about teaching, she answered without hesitation.

“I’ll miss the kids the most,” she said. “Hands down.”