We’re still musicians

I am always thrilled to meet a new group of music teachers when leading an INSET course; it reminds me how valuable it is for us to get together and share our thoughts, worries and most importantly our successes. More than most subjects we can be rather isolated as a teacher of Music, having a diverse role that includes a great deal of activity beyond the classroom, yet unlike our Science or English colleagues we don’t always have a peer to vent to at the end of a busy week. It is great to see, in London, that the Peer-to-Peer and Teach Through Music programmes will help to connect teachers across the capital with the shared goal of making music teaching musical. OFSTEDs criticism of Music teaching (particularly at Key Stage 3) fuelled the need for such programmes and I believe they will deliver some visible results that will undoubtedly improve the outcomes for pupils.

What makes the Teach Through Music programme so compelling for me is that it places equal importance on the development of musical skills of the teacher as well as the pupil. We spend so much time worrying about assessment, curriculum planning, resources; we forget that we are musicians too. Do you remember why you came to music in the first place? I recall hearing Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony as a child and was entranced. So much so I danced to the first movement! I was hooked. Sadly I didn’t have much teaching at A-level in Music and was left to lead my own learning and as such took much direction from my instrumental teachers. Throughout my school years, university and postgraduate studies I continued by lessons and got involved with as many different musical activities as I could. When I moved to my first teaching post in Dorset I took the time to get to know my fellow musicians in the neighbourhood and ended up learning Gamelan (and borrowing a gamelan), Japanese Taiko, African drumming as well as taking part in an improvised/contemporary music group. So many colleagues would see these endeavours as selfish. Aren’t we supposed to be focusing on what the pupils are doing? I found the results to be on the contrary and far from selfish. Pupils recognised my passion, obsession and fascination with a wide range of musics and were intrigued by me sharing authentic musical experiences with them. We became equals as musicians and I helped to cultivate an atmosphere of ‘we’re in this together’ in the Music Department. It’s the same atmosphere I continue to develop in all my teaching.

I firmly believe the best teaching in Music comes from an authentic engagement with what we’re trying to teach; London particularly has a significant cultural offering and I’ve worked hard to forge links with a diverse range of opportunities. Have you explored what is happening in your area? Is there a musician whom you could invite to introduce a musical style, genre? Above all I keep involved in my own music-making. It’s why I came to music and it shouldn’t stop. It’s my passion as well as my career. Networking and connecting with fellow music teachers is great, but don’t forget to connect with fellow musicians. Perhaps have lessons again? I took up singing last year to help develop confidence with using the voice in lessons and it has lead me to be involved with a local opera company as well as taking part in an opera course.

When was the last time you did something musical for you? When was the last time you rushed into a lesson buzzing with chatter about a piece you heard at a concert the night before, or a musician you met? When was the last time you performed, or wrote music? If we want our pupils to think and act like musicians, then we need to be a role-model for such behaviour and this behaviour should be something we adopt in and out of the classroom. We teach Music, yes. It doesn’t mean we have to stop being musicians.

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