Music – when students burn out…

In my current teaching role at an institution in Melbourne I have seen time and time again students who ‘just get over the line’ without really having an opportunity to soak up information provided by lecturers and then apply to their own craft – an issue that isn’t only within my institution or discipline.

When it comes to music, a lot students are preparing for classes only, a typical student study load in my institution consists of:

  • Principal Study
  • Ensemble
  • Theory
  • Critical Studies
  • Performance Studies
  • Concert Practice
  • Workshop
  • Elective (arranging, production etc)

This is roughly 14 hours of class time per week not to mention extra rehearsals toward week 8, 9 and 10 to prepare for assessments for at least 2 of these classes.

When does the student get time to practice and work on technique (scales, tone etc) or work on aural skills? instead of completing tasks for class in order to pass a subject? And then, when does the student have to work in their part time job in order to pay the bills, when do they get to go and see performances to enhance their musical language and then network with other musicians… when do they sleep?

I’m aware that students have the option to study part time, however, in a full time load such as above, isn’t this all too much? It certainly was not like this when I was a student.

What has changed?

Are we preparing professional musicians for the future, or are we burning them out?

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The Master Teacher

Master teachers are not born, they become (Common, 1989). The relevance behind this quote for me, means that like most things that you practice, you become more learned in, you apply, you reflect, you argue, you criticize, conceptualize, refine and then re-apply.

Walking develops when you first crawl, you then put one foot in front of the other, hold onto objects for stability, you stumble, you fall and you get back up, reflecting on what went wrong, practicing the skill you know you have achieve until you can do it, the underpinning nature of this practice is, reflective learning.

As teachers, we become excellent teachers when we use reflective practices to improve in areas of the five dimension model of attributes (fig. 1)

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The five dimension model is an important aspect of any Master Teacher, as from my own experience, teachers who I have learned from in secondary school and university certainly applied reflective practice to inform their teaching, delivery of content, knowledge of content and could relate to every student in the class and to engage students who may be deemed as ‘at risk’.

My own teaching is informed by reflective practice, after each class I reflect on the delivery of the content, did the students understand the topics? Was there a better way of explaining x,y and z? Who in the class needed help more than the others? Are there any other methods I can adopt to improve knowledge transfer from myself to students.

The paper of Ruth, Kane et al states, ‘ No two participants approached their teaching in the same way. They had a wide range of subject expertise, interpersonal relationships with students, teaching practices, research areas, and personalities… and spent a great deal of time reflecting on their teaching in different ways.’

When we first become teachers, I believe we are crawling, learning to become educators and reflect on what could be better in our own lessons, as we gain experience from ‘on the ground’ situations (classes) we adopt various methods of teaching to better enhance the student experience. The wheel of attributes, for me, demonstrates an important breakdown of the skills required to be a master teacher so we can become a true master in the ‘complex act of teaching’