How Do We Ever Know if We’re Doing “Enough”?

11th November 2021

Rosie Weatherley – Musical Futures Champion Teacher, Castleford Academy, West Yorkshire

Music teachers tend to be resourceful, passionate and very good at preparation. No sooner have we started back at school in September than we’re planning the Christmas Showcase, and before the final jingle bell has a chance to fade away our thoughts are already turning to the “Big Show” in the summer. Then there’s the constant cycle of new names and faces to learn each year, confidence to nurture, talent to discover.

However, as well as being amazing planners and having the ability to overcome any obstacle that can be thrown at us (nothing can match a music teacher in show mode) there is also that little voice in our heads which is sometimes hard to silence. We have peri lessons up and running, but are they full? Consistently attended? Are enough instrumental students doing exams? Are we teaching notation in year 7? Should we be? If we write the letters on the keyboard keys are we aiding pupils to make quicker progress or underestimating their ability to find the notes themselves? Are ukuleles the greatest classroom musical instrument ever or an out-of-tune nightmare? Are we choosing songs and pieces that engage the students whilst at the same time exposing them to the “greatest that has been thought or said”? Sound or symbol? Stormzy or Mozart?

As the first term of the academic year draws to a close I keep finding the same question going round and round my head on a never-ending loop: As music teachers, how do we ever know if we’re doing “enough”?

I want my curriculum to inspire, engage and ensure good musical progress by my students. I want students to leave my classroom feeling like they have achieved something. I love the buzz around the subject and can’t imagine teaching anything else, but it can sometimes feel like an enormous balancing act. I want to be the best head of department I am capable of being, an excellent classroom practitioner and a caring form tutor as well as being a musician in my own right outside of the classroom. I want schemes of work to be organised, current and relevant; lessons to be planned, resourced and ready to go; marksheets up to date and students flourishing. I want to provide extra-curricular opportunities, to enable my students to experience music making in the real world, not just inside a classroom. I want to take them on trips to places they’ve never been before, and help them to realise how big the world is, and just how many opportunities are out there if they are brave enough to take them.

But then I am faced with the cold hard reality – there are only 24 hours in a day. I have an amazing department in a very supportive school, but I have to recognise that much as I want to believe I can, I simply cannot do everything. Sometimes we owe it to ourselves to take a step back and be really proud of everything we are doing. It is very easy to judge ourselves on our intentions, and then to feel like we have failed when we cannot tick off every single thing on our ever-increasing to-do lists. We need to get better at realising that everything we put in to action is enough. What you are doing is enough. The opportunities you provide for your students are more valuable now than ever before – after so much uncertainty, fear and isolation music provides a way to bring us together, a way to express our feelings, a way to feel like we are bigger than our current circumstances and that the world will be brighter again. Every note you teach your students to play, every song you sing together, every show you put on and every opportunity you provide is making a difference.

So while I will continue this year to aim high for my department, my pupils and myself I will also try very hard to quieten that persistent questioning voice in my head. I will instead focus on the sounds that validate what I do, and drown it out with the excellence of what I hear every day – pupils practising, performing and progressing on their musical journeys.

Because yes, I am doing enough. And so are you.

Excellent workshops ‑ extremely accessible for all abilities and levels."

Claire Armour, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra