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  • Becky Pepper

Call out to Music Teachers - Do you relate?

Ok, so I wrote this at the end of a loooong old year. The first fully untinterupted one since covid. I was feeling a little low. But honestly these issues were around before, leading me to a massive burnout at the end of 2018. I worked hard to build things back, get a positive mindset and redefine my relationship with music education. Then… covid. It was disheartening to feel a lot of the old problems creeping in. I hope to start the 22/23 school year with fresh eyes and positivity.


Anyway, if I've got you please, read on!


Ok here goes. I’m tired. I’m tired of waking up to another new email saying, “oh, my kid’s quitting music”, “oh, we want to finish their lessons at the end of term”. I’m just tired of all the excuses that come with it and just having to see that work disappear away from me and know the monetary and emotional cost that is bringing to my life and to my work. My work with young people and trying to bring music, and the benefits of it, to people.

It’s just the same old excuses I’m tired of, “my kid has to stop lessons because they’re starting their GCSE’s or A-Levels”, “they’re not really enjoying it anymore” [read: it’s becoming an effort for them and they don’t like having to work at something], or “they’re not making as much progress as I thought”, which often is: the parent has unrealistic expectations of the child, or the child is putting too much pressure on themselves and actually, any progress is good progress. The old excuse “it’s too expensive”, which to be fair, I don’t get told that one very much, and in actual fact any children on pupil premium, the poorest families, have their lessons paid for or highly subsidised, so there is help with that. The “oh well, theyre too busy with other things, they've got too much on”.


I mean first of all, these are children and young people, not adults running busy lives, raising their own families and running their own businesses, so maybe I’m harsh to say that but I don’t undertand why they are so busy?! I understand there is more pressure on children these days but this is something that I would never put pressure on them with. I also get the distinct impression that my colleagues in drama and sport don’t hear that excuse as often as we music teachers do, so it’s fine for them to be busy with their sports fixtures and it’s fine for them to be busy with shows but it’s not fine for them to be busy with music. Which again has that knock on emotional effect, that I’m just fed up of.


I’m fed up of fighting all the time to get more student s and then not even to get more students, but to retain those students, past anything beyond a year. Even combining that with the issues of fighting against schools, to let children be ‘let out’ of other lessons to take part in my activities. Fighting against schools to be given, first of all, the respect that we deserve as music teachers, because we are so often seen as ‘not proper teachers’ and our subject is not seen as respected or important. And that trickles down to the kids. And fighting against schools to get children to take up and carry on with our subject between one school and the next, with the transition between going from year 6 to year 7. That change in time where they have a very good provision in one school and no way to carry on in the next, or sometimes vice versa, then again, getting children to start at 11 or 12 years old is hard work. Fighting against the societal understanding of this idea of instrumental and ‘classical’ musicians. Yes when I was at school it was a nerdy thing to be a classical musician and to like it but it wasn’t seen as such a terrible thing, or so alien as it is now I feel. I feel like the children, even the good ones are often embarassed to bring their instruments into school, and it’s like, “what?! Why?!” especially when as a society in the whole we are a lot more tolerant than we were in the 90s/00s and self expression is celebrated. Music is still really popular with young people, of course it is, music is still popular with humans! I can’t help feel that there’s a certain element within the popular music that goes on in the world, particularly with us in the UK, where our music is heavily [and very well!] produced. So you have the idea of the celebrity rapper or singer but noone knows about the producer or the orchestrator or the songwriters behind it, who are a lot of the time classically or at least formally trained musicians. Its easy for young people to see people home producing or putting things on tiktok or youtube and think its easy without being shown that artists journey and graft. Most big productions as we know will have trained musiains who are instrumentals with training but it seems like that is a ‘dirty’ or ‘uncool’ thing to admit.


So yeah, I’m just tired of fighting that stereotype all the time.


I’m tired of fighting the gendered issues with it; I’m tired of fighting racial issues within it, and not knowing how to affect change as someone with white privilege.


So yeah, the belief was when I was growing up, that being a performing musician was a dangerous path and you wouldn’t make any money doing that, unless you were some kind of prodigy and then you *might* get a job in a big orchestra. Of course in recent times, performing hasn’t worked out great for many of us. But I do feel with gigging, if there is a certain amount of good money to be made. Teaching was always the ‘safe and solid option’ but I spend a lot of my time figting with parents just to get paid. That safe job isn’t even that secure an income.


We’ve gone from a 39 week school year, teaching for 36 weeks, to teaching for 30 weeks across the three terms. It doesn’t take a genuis to work out that means a pay cut. If somone in administration was told they’d lose a month and a half income, over the year, they’d leave and find another job. That’s what I and many others have had to do - go out and find other work. What was a guaranteed amount of money is not necessarily guaranteed. You make yourself available for those term time weeks to not necessarily get given, or be able to schedule work in those times. This reduction contributes to the overall effect of the subject being seen as less important. I magine trying to cut 9 weeks a year of maths syllabus! The kids almost forget what theyve learned between terms and we go back into the whole cycle again.


I think it’s really tough right now being a music teacher, a music educator. There are so many great, great teachers out there doing amazing work, against the odds. There are some great hubs and organisations that are really trying to push things against the odds and keep music going, but if thyre honest those organisations know there are cutbacks, there are things where we have reduced hours and work and provision just to survive. There are fewer students, fewer schools than there were before; we know that. And yeah, I’m tired of it.


Do any other music teachers relate? Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your experiences. I feel we may need to start some sort of support group! Either way, let's keep the conversation going.


me trying to motivate my students with cartoons!


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