Teacher. Encourager. Supporter. Leader. These are just some of the words that come to mind when describing Angela Tipps in MTSU’s School of Music. Within minutes of talking to Tipps, her love of music and her students is evident. And while things have looked different for her classes for most of 2020, one thing that hasn’t changed is her dedication to her students, who she often refers to as “my kids.”
Tipps is responsible for coordinating the Introduction to Music classes. Around 750 students take the course each semester. It’s divided over 20 sections, and taught by 10 adjuncts and four full-time instructors.
“When we learned we were going remote for the Fall, not one of them complained. Instead, they worked all summer – even adjuncts, who don’t get paid in summer – to gather resources, offer insight, and help one another. I couldn’t be more proud of my colleagues,” Tipps said.
Tipps also develops and provides curriculum, finds resources for teaching and helps put out fires when needed, including helping with technology that doesn’t work to encounters with students and teachers. She also conducts the Men’s and Women’s Chorale and teaches conducting.
Looking back to March when the pandemic began, Tipps said things changed quickly for the School of Music like it did for all the colleges at MTSU, but everyone pulled together to make those changes and adjustments as smooth as possible for students.
“D2L had been a primary part of what we do, so the structure was there, but no one was teaching totally remotely,” Tipps explained. “When it shut down, there was widespread panic about how do I do this?”
The answer came in the form of technology – like most things these days.
“We did a lot of Zoom calls between all of the instructors to help facilitate what resources they could use,” she said. “Everyone worked together. Mostly, I was just trying to keep everyone calm.”
And with Tipps’ expertise and calming nature, everything fell into place, and the Spring semester continued and she quickly began looking toward the Fall. To help prepare, she took around 10 in-services with ITD so she could connect with her students even better and help other professors in the School of Music.
“I was always learning about Zoom, YouTube and captioning,” she said. “I certainly don’t know all the answers, but we figured it out together. By the time we were ready to go online for the first week of school, everyone was way more comfortable than they were in March.”
Besides getting her classes ready for an online format, which includes a Dance Party each week, Tipps decided to create “mini” choirs that would make it safe for her students to sing together in person.
“We had to make significant shifts in the way we do things, but at least we’re still singing.”
Following CDC guidelines, classrooms were set up where students could sit six feet apart, and everyone would be required to wear a mask.
“I’m so impressed with our kids. Just 100 percent – yes, we’ll wear that mask. I’ve never had anyone push me on that. They know it’s not ideal, but they’re just happy to be singing and to be together. There’s that natural high that comes from singing together, so I think that helps a lot.”
While things still look different than ever before, Tipps can’t say enough about her students.
“They’re rock stars and know we’re doing the best we can,” Tipps said, noting she also is trying to be mindful of the work that she’s assigning.
“It can’t be like it is when it’s in real-time because they’re not coming to campus and getting their work done at that time. It’s all on them all the time,” she explained. “I’m trying to make it more user-friendly for them. I’m trying to make it where they self-motivate and don’t always have deadlines swinging in their face.”
Whether it’s for an assignment, mental health or just to chat, Tipps said she makes sure her students know she’s there for them if they need her.
“I’m very vocal about my own mental health. I see a therapist every three weeks just because it’s good to talk about things. I take anti-depressants and I’m very upfront with my students about that because I want them to know it’s ok to ask for help.”
While looking toward the future, Tipps said there are certain things that she can’t wait for – like singing without a mask when it’s safe and planning get-togethers with her beloved students.
“Having the whole choir together in one room without a mask so that I can actually hear them, and loving on them and having get-togethers – that’s what I am most looking forward to,” she said. “We moved about a half-mile campus so I could have my kids closer to me.”
No matter how things may look in the Spring, Tipps is ready to take on the challenge with her students and colleagues.
Tipps graduated from MTSU. This is her 23rd year to teach at MTSU.
— DeAnn Hays (firstname.lastname@example.org)