Caring for parents: what music teachers can do to help
For many parents life is very challenging at the moment, with the COVID restrictions that affect us all plus the closure of primary and secondary schools; concern over how the last year and the months ahead will affect their children’s education longer term; the pressures of supporting home learning and of simultaneously fulfilling work obligations; and for many parents there are changing financial circumstances with lost jobs, lost work or concerns that this might happen.
Those financial issues are likely to intensify over the next months as the furlough scheme ends and more organisations have to take difficult decisions.
The increased complexity and number of options in music exams is an extra burden.
The child’s online lesson with you may well be a highlight of their week.
Many schools are not able to provide much live teaching, let alone with live video or significant individual attention.
In online group classes, seeing and interacting with other children may also be a highlight.
Here are some suggestions for how we, as teachers, can help:
• Be extra careful and kind in your expectations of what parents are doing to support learning. We must still expect that they do support their child’s learning, as usual, but be mindful of their increased burden at present.
• Carefully consider your expectations from students - continued progress and learning is essential for enjoyment, but under the current circumstances there may be challenges including time, access to an instrument, space to practise, family support, motivation and mental health.
• Take extra care to look out for signs that the student is struggling, and be ready to react and adjust as necessary - both in the short term, perhaps by shifting to a different activity, and the longer term, perhaps by shifting goals. Be sensitive in addressing such struggles - is it best to raise it with the student directly? Or indirectly? Or to change activity or goal more discreetly? Perhaps to speak to a parent, or to a colleague?
• If you have any concerns about a student, parent or other family member don’t hesitate to speak to your line manager, or if it concerns safeguarding then speak to your Designated Safeguarding Lead. If you’re a private tutor then the ISM and MU have policies and advice for safeguarding concerns or you can contact your local authority safeguarding hub for advice.
• If you’re able to offer a little extra flexibility then this can go a long way - for example rescheduling a lesson or providing extra support during the lesson time.
• If you become aware of changed financial circumstances and if appropriate, you could recommend that they look at financial support, for example learners at Greenwich Music School may be be eligible for support from our Bursary Fund. 41 students are currently supported by the Fund, including several who had been paying full fees a year ago.
I know that kindness is already a key part of the teaching approach for so many teachers across the country - so I know that during this period, as a national community we will be able to look out even more carefully for opportunities where extra kindness is needed.
Many of us are also parents and may face the challenges mentioned above. And I’m very much aware that many of us also may face additional challenges as musicians in a time where face to face performance is outlawed.
As a national community, our reaction to the pandemic has been outstanding - we can be truly proud of what we continue to achieve for those learning music everywhere.
Music can have enormous impact for good, and as music teachers it’s in our hands to share this impact with children and families.