First year music teacher Asay meets COVID challenges head on

David Peck

The first year in the classroom is difficult enough for any new teacher. But for new Lovell high school and middle school vocal music teacher Emily Asay, starting a teaching career during the COVID-19 has presented special challenges.

Asay decided to enter the workforce last fall after more than 10 years as a stay-at-home mom, although she had for years been an active substitute teacher. Her new position allows her to pass along her love of music.

The daughter of Roland Simmons of Cowley and Reven Foulger of Santa Rosa, Calif., Asay was born in Santa Rosa and lived there until the age of 12 in 1995, when the family moved to Cowley. She started seventh grade at Rocky Mountain Middle School in Deaver and in high school was twice selected for the Wyoming All-State Choir as an alto before graduating in 2001.

She enrolled at BYU-Idaho as a music major, then switched to secondary education with a health endorsement and a minor in music. She graduated in 2005 after student teaching in West Valley, Utah.

Returning home, she married high school sweetheart Michael Asay, who had completed a mission to Texas and was studying at Northwest College. The couple then moved to Laramie while Michael finished up at the University of Wyoming, back to Lovell when he worked as a medical technician at the Powell Valley Hospital, then to Billings when Michael earned his master’s degree at Rocky Mountain College to become a physician’s assistant.

After his graduation in 2015, Michael worked at St. Vincent Healthcare in gastroenterology for a year before being hired at North Big Horn Hospital in 2016 as a PA with a specialty in emergency medicine, and the family returned to Lovell.

Over the years, music has been a huge part of Emily’s life. Her grandmother led a ward choir group and took her to choir practice, as well as voice lessons. She sang in the Santa Rosa Children’s Choir as well as at church. She later sang in the Billings Symphony Chorale, “which was awesome,” she added, and currently sings in the Lovell Stake Choir.

Returning to teaching

Substitute teaching
over the years allowed Asay to keep her teaching certificate current, and when her four kids were all enrolled in school last fall, she decided to pursue a career as an educator.

“In November of last year, anticipating all of my kids in school, I asked myself what I wanted to do,” she said. “I knew I wanted to work at least part-time. I had done lots of subbing, and I enjoyed subbing at the elementary school. I thought about elementary ed. I was a couple of clicks (on the computer) from enrolling at Chadron State but had a bad feeling about it. I thought I would see about getting my music education endorsement.”

Asay sent her transcript to the Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board and was informed that she needed 27 music credits for a music education endorsement, which she easily had, but nine of the credits had to be earned within the last five years. So she simply took enough music credits in the spring at NWC to qualify.

“I was older than all of my teachers,” she joked.

About that time, the Lovell vocal music job came open upon the resignation of Rachel Schoessler. Asay applied and was offered the job, but one major challenge remained.

“I had no idea a job would be available this fast,” she said. “It was actually too fast. But it came, and here I am.”

Her final challenge was taking and passing the Wyoming Praxis exam, a grueling test through which educators must demonstrate their knowledge of content, pedagogy and instructional skills for the classroom.

“It’s a beast,” Asay said, noting that she prepared most of the summer for the exam that, for music, included theory, technology, history, professionalism and pedagogy.

“It was hard for me,” she said. “I was 15 years out of college. I had to dust off all of my old textbooks. There was lots and lots of studying. Linnea (Dickson) was super helpful, and I was in touch with Rachel. Chauna (Bischoff) helped me study.”

She passed the test in Billings on Aug. 14 and started preparation for her first school year, receiving help from both Dickson and Schoessler and noting that, after what both of them established, “I have super big shoes to fill.”

Asay is a part-time teacher at the high school and middle school, teaching concert choir and show choir at the high school and the seventh- and eighth-grade choir at the middle school, along with a general music class with band director Keath Fenton.

“It’s fun that we have the show choir (at LHS),” she said.

Asay said her biggest challenge so far has been dealing with the effects of COVID-19, from virtual learning to maintaining social distancing. She has three virtual learning students, two at the middle school and one at the high school. She scans music onto the Canvas learning management system, and she and accompanist Lauren Shumway record each student’s part so he or she can sing along.

Back at the school, students are spread out through the music room or multi-purpose room two at a table.

“Vocal ensembles need to be able to hear each other,” she said. “It’s a challenge to have kids spread out that far because it’s hard for them to hear each other and hard for me to hear them. I’m really hoping that, by our Christmas concert, they can at least stand together for the concert.”

The challenge for the show choir is the choreography, Asay said. Students must wear masks when close enough to learn the various moves the choir makes, which makes singing difficult.

She noted that she is also working to implement theory, sight reading and other standards.

With her first month as a first-year teacher during a pandemic now past, Asay said she sometimes thinks to herself how nice it would be to be at home again, but she is grateful for the opportunity to teach and hopes to “make some great things happen,” adding, “When you have an opportunity to challenge yourself and grow, you should grab onto that. I just want them to learn a lot of music and have a great experience and say that was cool.”

She noted that Lovell Middle School is in line to host the middle school honors choir on Saturday, Oct. 24, and that the school is awaiting the word from the State Dept. of Health on a variance request.

Michael and Emily Asay have four children: Stetson, 13, an eighth-grader at LMS; Kandace, 11, a sixth-grader; Janelle, 9, a third-grader; and Stahle, 6, who is in kindergarten.