The role we don’t talk about as a teacher
Being an instrumental teacher is a privileged position to have. In the last two years, I have realised that the role that we play is more than a teacher of music.
Quite often, our lessons are one to one. It is probably one of the few learning roles that a student will have where it is a regular one to one with a teacher—time with another adult where the attention on the adult is 100% on the child. The child doesn't have to fight for the teacher's attention. It doesn't matter if they are the quiet ones that hide in the background, those that are easily missed. They have their teachers attention. If they are the type of student that craves attention, they have it.
Some of the students that I have, I've had since they were 5 or 6 and are now in secondary school. They've built trust with me over this time. Once you have built trust with your students, and they feel comfortable with you, you become another trusted adult in their lives. You become important to them.
This became really apparent during the lockdowns. When we couldn't meet in person, we had to do everything online. I found that sometimes I was the only other person that my student would have spoken to that day or even week from outside their home. I found that the time given to small talk at the start of the lesson increased as students craved connection with the outside world, even if it was only through a screen.
When I noticed this was happening at the start of the first lockdown, I started to get frustrated. I'm not getting paid to talk (or listen); I'm being paid to teach the piano. But then I realised that actually, my students needed the chat. It encouraged during such a difficult time, which I also believed motivated them to practice during the week.
I did a lot more improvisation with them during the lockdown. I was encouraging them to play how they are feeling on the piano. It gave them a means of release, a way of expressing their emotions, even if they didn't have the words to describe how they were feeling.
Since returning to face to face lessons, one of my young students mum's warned me that he had come home from school in a grumpy mood, and she didn't know why. I noticed that he wasn't talking to me in the lesson or wanting to play any of his pieces. So we did some improvisational activities. I asked him what kind of mood he wanted to play in, and he said angry. So we played some angry music. Afterwards, his mood had changed; he also shared with me something that happened at school, which we then told his mum about at the end of the lesson.
I can't write this post without mentioning safeguarding issues. Because of this special role that we can play in our students' lives, we need to be aware they may disclose something that may be a safeguarding issue. This is why it is essential to attend regular safeguarding training to know what to look out for and what to do if you do have safeguarding concerns. Please keep this training up to date and know who and where to report any concerns. Please let the professionals do their work when needed; we are not trained social workers. Still, it is everyone's responsibility to keep everyone safe. If you are reading this in the UK, please go to you local council to find details of the safeguarding team.
Please remember that we are not trained counsellors or social workers. Still, we can listen when needed—making someone feel that they are genuinely being listened to sometimes is all they need. But as you listen and something within you tells you that something isn't right, please act appropriately. That could be just chatting with their parents or suggesting they seek professional help, or reporting safeguarding concerns to the appropriate body.
Links to websites: https://www.nspcc.org.uk