Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff


Uncertainty does not only plague the lives of students, coaches, or public environments, but teachers and staff alike. During these times teachers seem to be getting credit and acknowledgement in the media, but haven’t really shared their feelings on a platform that is easily accessible to everyone including their students. I decided to meet with three Galena High School staff members and see how they are currently trying to create both a safe and productive environment for themselves and others.

With a few new faces to GHS, I wanted to ask them about their timeline so far and how they are making their rounds and impacts on each of the students. Mr. Mike Vaschur, the new Galena band director, sat across from me after finishing a flute session with two of his students. “This is all new for me. All I have is my student teaching experience and for the first few weeks we were able to really do what I wanted to do. Like going outside, but then when it started getting cold we had to come inside and things were a little awkward with masks and stuff.”

Masks and social distancing weren’t the biggest challenges Vaschur had anticipated for the incoming school term. Keeping both the virtual and in person students interested and focused was another battle to be won. “I had a hard time at first with having the kids practice concert music when they were all very bored,” Vaschur said. “I don’t blame them because there’s no performance that we are preparing for. So we switched it up to pop music and they seem to be more into it and having fun again.”

Seeming to have only just dipped his feet into the pool of teaching, his past as a student wasn’t that long ago. “This was all sudden and I still had a few loose ends to tie up. I just graduated from college in December, I was a substitute teacher for a bit, and then COVID hit.” Vaschur said. “I also taught a long term sub gig for about 8-weeks and I didn’t meet any of the students in person and it was all online. I’m just happy that this year is at least partially in person. But I knew this was going to be tough because Mr. Holland left very suddenly, and the students showed up a little confused. I was a new person coming in and trying to do stuff; it was a culture change to them.”

His introduction to GHS was a little unconventional to say the least. However, filling the shoes of the previous band director Mr. Steve Holland brought on more stressors for his school start. “He [Holland] was here for 18 years, the expectation for me to be as good as him is almost unrealistic. I think I’m pretty good, I mean I was valedictorian of my college class.” Vaschur flexed with a laugh, and pointed to his gold Northwestern Illinois University plaque that hangs next to his desk. “I am confident in what I am doing and I know what I am doing, but I can’t be compared to that,” he stated smoothly, his calm and confident demeanor never faltering.

As assured as Vaschur comes off, he still proudly acknowledged Holland’s past and relationships with the older students. “He did a lot of things and was very well known around town,” he starts. “Coaching a lot and even doing things with the Galena Arts Council. He was very well liked and respected.”
The relationship he holds with the older students is one that has a mutual understanding and respect for one another. “We teach differently,” Vaschur begins. “For the juniors and seniors, when COVID hit they really got the short end of the stick and things got cancelled. I am an honest and upfront person, and nobody was having a good time so I really asked them what they wanted out of class. I try to treat everyone the same, but I understand that they are never going to be my kids.”

Vaschur seems to keep a respectful understanding of the upperclassmen’s emotions, knowing that some of what they do isn’t personal. “They are never going to buy into everything I’m saying all the time and I recognize that.” V

aschur admits. But he remains hopeful in his words. “I put a lot of that effort in towards the 5th graders since those are the students I started with and they started with me; those are my kids. I put in effort with everyone, but it’s also good to acknowledge the culture difference between the two areas of my job.” Seeing a new staff member doing well, even in an environment that was a little rocky and uneven at the beginning, is very reassuring that his future at GHS will be smoother after the pandemic.

With all of the hustle and bustle that is not only taking over the band department, but also the rest of GHS. Guidance counselor, Mrs. Brooke Deppe has really been put on her toes. She has been very communicative with all of the high school students during all of this, luckily this year it isn’t just a one person operation

. In August, she welcomed Ms. Karissa Doyle under her wing as Doyle is currently in an internship position, kind of like a practice run.

Doyle was taken aback when asked to be interviewed, but was still enthusiastic to spread her words of wisdom about her time so far this school year. “It’s been different for sure and this is my internship so this definitely wasn’t what I was expecting. The students are making it easier to do things since they have been so cooperative. Just given the fact that it is all online there is a lot more work that you can’t walk away from and really try to make the best out of the situation.” Doyle said.

Surely her expectations for her internship did not include a global pandemic, but she still sees the bright side of things. “As a school counselor so much of that is therapy and reading people’s facial expressions. But now that you have a mask, you feel like therapy can only go so well. That’s rea

lly difficult since we [counselors] were taught to read body language. It’s hard when [students] are covered and I can’t see if [they’re] smiling. But it is still good since you guys are still here and still in school. We still get to see you guys and there have still been opportunities to grow and develop.” she continues.

Her positivity is almost infectious, this definitely is having an effect on the anxious freshmen. “I feel as though they [the freshmen] have been very open and honest about their struggles and I am so grateful for that. New people, new place, new everything. When I’ve had meetings with them it’s been so productive.” It is refreshing to hear that to her there is a silver lining that is beneath all of the difficulty.

From what can be seen at local supermarkets around the world there has definitely been a shortage of cleaning supplies and paper products. Before the apocalypse of Clorox and Bounty Paper Towels, Mrs. Susan Friederick was definitely well equipped. Her classroom cleanliness always remains close to perfection. However with new people, germs, and circumstances, it has definitely proven difficult for her. “I think in my classroom it has added many layers of planning and cleaning. Everything that students touch needs to be sanitized after each individual use and in my class we don’t sit in our seats reading a textbook. We are constantly rotating and doing projects, so there is a lot of extra preparation and clean up on the other end,” she commented.

Seeming relaxed about that aspect of change in her classroom her emotions only changed when asked about her relationships with new students in the building. Which is another thing she prided herself on; having a relationship with every one of her students in one way or another. “I think for me it feels like I don’t have the same connection with students since we are physically so separated. With the kids online, who are always online, I always feel like there is a disconnect,” she said.

“With the freshman and other new students it’s difficult to make a connection. But we have office hours that I like to use to make those personal connections with students.” Whether it be surface level or in depth, Friederick is really putting forth her one-hundred percent into every student at Galena High School.
Even thoug

h there are only three stories from staff, there are many more to tell. Teachers are working long hours and recreating the curriculum all the time. They are making sure that their online students and their in person students are getting the full experience of what is happening in our classrooms. But, who makes the show happen? Who makes the assignments and creates that safe environment for students to feel emotionally and physically safe? The teachers and staff at Galena High School seem to be managing just like the students are. Learning to be flexible and trying to go-with-the-flow. They are trying to be understanding and available for anyone and accepting their missteps as well as their students. Learning is for everyone, now and always. Even for those who teach us every day.