An epiphany in the music room

I have noted over many years that beginning music teachers like other beginning teachers, understandably have a concern for how they express authority, gain respect from their classes, maintain order and teach without disruption. Experienced teachers sometimes report an anxiety as a new term comes around asking: will I be in control, will I still be able to do it?

None of this gets talked about very much.

The process of gaining confidence about how to be in the classroom appears to be a complex one.

I recall as a young teacher learning to manage classes by sheer force of personality before learning that giving pupils more agency over their learning could change this. But that only went so far. There remained another revelation to be had.

It was possible to hand over control to the pupils themselves.

I had found myself teaching PSHE and it was impressed upon me that this would require time for pupils to discuss issues as a whole class as a basis for clarifying their own values. By using well-tried techniques I discovered that there would come a moment in lessons when pupils stopped deferring to me, that is, expecting my comment, my interpretation, my approval or disapproval of what was being expressed. While the classroom was still based on my presence as the more knowledgeable other, together we were able to create a climate of openness and dialogue. This experience changed my understanding of who I was as a teacher.

So I was interested to hear from a music teacher telling me of a recent significant experience. The teacher writes:

‘The other week a whole year 8 lesson consisted of all students walking into the room, picking up a djembe drum each, and then proceeding to drum without direction or interference from me for a whole 45 minutes. They led their own music-making, and I simply watched, and occasionally followed one of their rhythms. When the lesson time was up, I did a 1-2-3-4 stop, and then told them their lesson was over. They thought that what they had done was the coolest thing ever. I felt like a significant thing had happened in my teaching career!’

Of course, the class had been directly taught drumming techniques and material from Senegalese drumming culture prior to this lesson.

And I expect the class had generated new material in the lesson described.

Music making is generative.

The teacher writes:

‘I felt like a significant thing had happened in my teaching career!’

Presumably such experiences serve to change the teacher-pupil relationship. The climate of the classroom changes opening up fresh possibilities, the possibility of nurturing dialogic space, for example.

Experiencing such epiphanies are likely to be critical in the developing self-understanding of the teacher.

I think it would be good if they came sooner rather than later.




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