Teaching is one of those jobs where you often don’t have time to stop and think about What Students Want. This past year or so has given me a chance to reflect on this.
I think this is the number 1 thing that I have realised. Students want to be part of something, they want to be in a community. Lockdown took away school, rehearsals, ensembles and concerts – Community was ripped away from us all in one go!
My response to this during lockdown was to go live on Instagram every day of term time and do a “Virtual Music Room”. This was basically me talking, but the students could join in and watch along. It was such fun and it worked. It was clear that the students just wanted to be part of something.
And frankly whatever it is they can be part of is a good thing. Whilst we want to strive for quality in our music making, we should strive to make communities first. My focus is always to bring students together and then work out what I can do with them. I keep all my ensembles and choirs open to everyone, no matter what stage they are at.
I think what students want is to feel part of something bigger than just lessons, exams and normal school life. They want to feel that they can meet and hold an instrument and do something with it. I don’t think it matters how big or small the musical group is, it just matters that it is there. So if you are struggling with space and restrictions, don’t worry about doing something small.
I am pretty sure that students want consistency. They like to know what the week holds and they can then look forward to rehearsals and events. I am pretty consistent with what I do, and it was only during lockdown and then the restrictive months that I changed my plans.
I have always held rehearsals before school, and then a few at lunch. I keep rehearsals a similar format and I always make sure that students leave happy. That doesn’t mean that I don’t push them, but they are giving up their time too. I pride myself on always being there, because cancelling rehearsals isn’t good for anyone. If I can’t be there, then I get a student to lead the session.
Being consistent means always being there and making sure that rehearsals have a similar feel and approach. But consistency is also about events and opportunities. The more we can consistently offer performance avenues the better. And they don’t need to be big concerts, they can be small recitals and showcases. They might be at lunchtime, or straight after school. Providing opportunities is all about the students you have and what will suit them best.
Students do want you to care, and I know you do. Music Departments are full of students that we need to care for, and of course this is a big burden on us. But music departments are also unique because they are often full of students from all year groups and backgrounds. therefore it is good to encourage the older students to care for the younger ones, taking some of the load from you.
Showing a student you care can be something simple, like a quick email or a well done. We don’t always have time to send home hand-written cards, but a quick chat in a corridor might make all the difference. I know you will care about your students and I am confident that they will appreciate it.
But make sure that you don’t over-care, and by that I mean, you can’t fix all problems! But it might be that you can point a student in the right direction. I have learnt that students need support, and the last couple of years have been tough. But make sure you take care of yourself too!
I have realised that students love to collaborate – not just within schools but across schools. I don’t do this enough, although within my MAT I am doing it more and more. When students get to work with younger students, or peers in another school, they get so much from it. Maybe being stuck inside during lockdown made them appreciate other people more. Look for opportunities to collaborate and then take them. They could be online or in person!
What Students Want
We get to work with passionate students that arrive at our departments keen to learn. They are also keen to spend their time with us outside of lessons and in the evenings. Students want to be part of something and we can cultivate a culture of participation and involvement. The more opportunities you give them, the better. Build community, be consistent and stay passionate and motivating. Don’t try and do it all and make sure you look after yourself.
What students want the most is a teacher how cares and is ready to support them. That means you need to not burnout, pace yourself and not try to be all things to all students! Music Teacher can often try to be super-heroes, but we have to sustain this!
I think we are super-heroes and I am sure you do more than most for your students. Keep up the good work and you will reap the benefits!