Isolation is a problem for so many Music Teachers. Some departments are huge, some have 3 or 4 staff. But there are departments up and down the country where there is only one Music Teacher. Such a situation can lead to a real feeling of Isolation.
I am also aware of visiting music teachers who often work alone and travel between schools. I don’t want to pretend I know what that is like, but I hope that this blog also offers some support if you are a VMT.
In my school I have a colleague in music and a few visiting teachers and musicians – I feel lucky to have them to support me. Working closely with the Drama department is also wonderful for support and collaboration. But there have been times in my career where I have felt Isolated and alone in the department. Coping with Isolation can be really hard, but I wanted to share some thoughts on how I have survived on my own in the past.
When I started writing this blog 2 months ago I couldn’t have imagined that the word Isolation would come in to play in quite the way it has. Not only are some isolated in their departments, but now they are potentially isolated at home, unable to see or interact with other people. The thoughts in this blog are therefore even more important at this current time.
If you are at home and struggling then please do think about some of the things in this blog. But also, make sure that you find colleagues that you can turn to. Working at home is entirely different to working at school, so if you are finding it hard then that is totally normal. I am finding the adjustment hard and we are now 4 weeks in.
You are not Alone
Wherever and whenever you feel isolated it is important to remember that you are not alone. There are so many music teachers up and down the country that will support you, chat to you, write to you and even visit you. It might be lonely day to day, so please make sure that you plug into the vast array of networks that are out there. Twitter & Facebook can be a great source of encouragement, and then there is good old fashioned email or phone calls.
But you might also consider joining a professional association such as the Music Teachers Association (MTA). I love being part of MTA and I feel like I have a virtual staffroom around me. I have met people through being a member that I now call upon if I need help or support. The annual conference is also great! Have a read about why I love it HERE! You can currently join the MTA for a reduced rate and we are offering CPD on ZOOM during the Corona Virus Lockdown. I am sure that this Zoom provision will also continue in the future.
So if you are suffering from Isolation in your department please do get in touch. I would love to offer any support I can, although I am aware that I don’t have infinite time! But I do also recommend joining one or all of the various Facebook groups that are out there! I don’t know all the answers, but if you are feeling isolated then I might be able to help or point you in the direction of some who can.
One of the things that I worry about for colleagues is that when they do seek help on Facebook, Twitter or online in general, that people don’t always know their context. If you ask for advice then are you actually getting the right advice. It is important for all of us to think about this if we are going people advice – what works for us might not work for them.
Therefore if you are feeling isolated and in need of help, make sure you get the right advice. It might help to contact someone in a similar school, or a local school that you know is similar. You might try and give the information needed in your tweet or message so that you get the response you are after.
Caution is also something that is needed when you feel isolated. Firstly you have to remember that you are not alone, I have already stressed that. But you then need to remember that not all the advice you receive will be correct or even appropriate for your situation. You need to make sure that when advice is offered people are aware of your situation, and this is sometimes not possible over Twitter & Facebook. I would seek to gain a range of ideas and then filter them for your scenario and context. Make sure you that you test the water with ideas.
When we are working alone and feeling in need of support we mustn’t fall into the comparison trap. Sometimes we can read about a school where they have just performed Handel’s Messaish at The Royal Albert Hall and feel that we aren’t doing enough. Of maybe one school have just decided that the only way forward is to get every student learning the Guitar and we feel we are letting our students down.
If you are isolated in your department then comparing yourself to others might not be useful to you. It is good as mentioned to find colleagues either locally, or nationally, who know you and your context. Try to build good professional relationships, but don’t ever start comparing yourself to others.
If you are Isolated and working alone, either at home during Lockdown or in your department, then seeking Comfort is fine and appropriate. What I mean by this is, we are all in need of a little comfort every now and again. Things go wrong, lessons fail, projects are hard and new ventures don’t always work out. Students don’t do as well as we would like, concerts aren’t as well attended and we feel like we aren’t getting anywhere.
All music teachers struggle with something at some point and we need to know where we can go for comfort and support. Finding networks, colleagues, organisations or groups that can help us is important. We might not want to turn to Twitter every time we fail, because publicly doing that isn’t always wise. But it is crucial that we seek support and know where to go for that.
If I look back at my career and consider all the times I have failed – oh my word! I have had to pick myself up again so many times and keep going. Failure is all part of the job and I wouldn’t have survived without colleagues that I can turn to and trust. But it isn’t always easy to admit our failings, so we need to have people to stand with us. When working in isolation it is tough, but we must seek comfort and then pick ourselves and keep going.
No matter how Isolated we feel or how hard something is, we must always keep going! I have used the word Continue because I got thinking about computer games where you “die” in the game but get to continue. Sometimes our lessons fail, or we have an awful day. As teachers we get a “Continue” like in a game of Mario or Sonic. We get the chance to go in another day and try again.
Not every lesson will be amazing, not every idea you have will be perfect, but you get to try again. So you must continue to develop as a teacher, continue to try and innovate and continue to believe in yourself. We get a fresh start every day, every term and every new academic year. Our failures don’t mark the end and we must continue to strive for our goals.
If you are looking for a helpful book then please do check out “Being a Head of Music: A Survival Guide”. It will full of helpful information and you might find yourself with plenty of time to read it at the moment. Great book and there is a link to a blog about it below.
And remember, being a teacher is something that you develop over time. It doesn’t all come at once and we are always learning and growing. Find colleagues to support you, look to organisations that you can join and try and not do it alone. Working in isolation is hard, and my thoughts go out to anyone who is feeling lonely and isolated. You are not alone, get in touch with someone and they will listen and support you. Because the thing is, every teacher has felt the same at some point in their career.
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