Music teaching can be both an equally rewarding and demanding journey, involving a wide range of roles alongside that of educator.
My own teaching journey began whilst studying for my undergraduate degree in Jazz, later formalised through a PGCE in Secondary music, before moving into the peripatetic arena. Throughout my varied career trajectory, I have always taught students to play instruments, often considering it a staple part of any musician’s volatile, career portfolio.
It was during my later training in psychotherapy where I was able to fully realise the true value of my broad teaching experience. Spending large amounts of time sensitively attuning to my patients, communicating with empathy, offering both support and challenge, resonated greatly with my many years teaching in a variety of settings. This growing therapeutic experience prompted me to reflect, and therefore realise the full extent of the demands we hold as music educators.
Our position as teachers extends far beyond the sole communication of knowledge or the modelling of musical performance
As teachers we inhabit and fulfil a myriad of roles within the different relationships we have with our pupils. We are often juggling mixed identities as mentors, friends, idols, counsellors, advisories and at times, emotional coaches. All of these relational frameworks involve the close monitoring of our pupils’ learning expectations, often overlapping with assisting their mental health management. Additionally, our discipline of choice is the rich, emotional language of ‘musicking’, with all of its inherent feelings, moods and affections.
From this position of acknowledging the multifaceted emotional intensity of music teaching, it is no wonder that we (as teachers) can often feel overwhelmed, overlooked and misunderstood.
Lockdown amplified mental struggles for many musicians
These tensions were greatly heightened for many of us during the Covid pandemic with the introduction of a new digital way of working. Peripatetic teaching can be a lonely endeavour at the best of times, but the country wide lockdown served to significantly amplify the mental health struggles of many of us musicians.
As a direct result of this crisis, Tonic Rider approached me to facilitate a peer group for professional musicians, to enable them a space to discuss their nuanced psychological struggles and vocation specific difficulties.
As these groups became more successful, I proposed the need for a teacher specific peer group, to enable a greater focus on the unique struggles of the teaching community.
Strength of the peer groups
The initial pilot for music teachers proved highly valuable for the attendees, with a wide range of topics being brought into the group awareness.
Factors such as managing boundaries when students want to use us as emotional scaffolding, maintaining professional etiquette through payment issues or even where to find mental health support ourselves were amongst the many issues explored during the sessions.
Despite these pertinent experiences, the overarching strength of the peer groups involved the growth of mutual support afforded by, and for the group.
I am always struck by the compassion and vulnerability of these peer groups, but the teaching community were able to deepen this as they expressed their own experiences and reinvigorated deep human connections.
Often, these peer connections are also taken forward through other self-maintained social networks such as Whatsapp or other ways of staying digitally connected, thus further nurturing the cultivated relationships.
As we fast approach a second peer group with the teaching-musician community, I feel honoured and privileged to be sharing this unique space once more with this often-isolated demographic.
Every musician peer group is different, but the uniqueness of this collective will offer a mutual support and opportunity to develop an increasing sense of community of others, within a shared understanding of all that it means to ‘teach’.