An awareness of the impact of trauma on learning and behaviour is gaining more and more traction in education, and it’s about time! Research in psychology has clearly demonstrated the link between trauma or toxic stress and challenges in learning environments. And yet, so far there is little awareness of trauma-informed teaching in music education, despite the fact that approximately two thirds of children will experience at least one traumatic event. It’s time to change that!
Exhausted. Overwhelmed. Unmotivated. Inability to feel excited about teaching. Any of this sound familiar? As music teachers, most of us have personally experienced burnout at some point during our teaching careers or know someone who has. Between trying to juggle lessons, planning, parent communications, student recruitment, expanding our resource libraries, and professional development, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed. When you add trying to balance that with families, school, chores, and other commitments, it can feel impossible to keep up with everything. In addition to the typical challenges of music teaching, teachers who work with special needs populations face an even higher risk of burnout and exhaustion due to stress. The pandemic has added additional stressors over the past year and a half as well, with many teachers having to face new challenges like switching to online learning, struggles with student retention and engagement, and coping with the effects of isolation. Considering these challenges, it’s no wonder that more music teachers than ever are suffering from stress and burnout!
As we are approaching Halloween, we start searching for different music activities to enjoy with our students. This one piece alone can yield so many activities! Below are some ideas based on this theme that can be used for group or private lessons and can be easily adapted to suit the ability and needs of your students.
Many of you may have had the following experience: you are teaching a student, and it has not been going well for a while now. You have been using all of your usual activities, tricks, and tips, and they don’t seem to be working. The student is not making much progress, and every lesson feels like a struggle. You notice they are getting frustrated or bored. Maybe some behavioural issues are appearing and making it difficult to even try getting things done during the lessons. Now you are starting to get frustrated and feeling burnt out. They are clearly not enjoying the lessons, and you are starting to feel anxious or annoyed when you think about teaching them. You may be thinking that the student is “just not cut out for music lessons”.
Sound familiar? This pattern is actually quite common for us as music teachers, and it can really make our job feel like a grind. Very often, it can happen because we are using a deficit model with that student. This attitude can be toxic for the learning process, especially for students with exceptionalities. The good news, however, is that we can change our perspective at any time!
As a music teacher, you may not be familiar with the term twice exceptional, but you’re most likely
familiar with twice exceptional characters in popular culture. The eccentric genius, the scatterbrained
professor…there are many examples of these profiles out there. People who are intellectually gifted, but
have a secondary diagnosis such as autism, ADHD or a learning disability are identified as twice
exceptional, and they are a bright, quirky, and fascinating group to teach! They are also a complex
group, and it’s important to understand students with these profiles in order to be able to fully support
them and help them reach their full potential.
Many cultural norms and misconceptions tell us that in order to have success teaching exceptional students, we need to have unique characteristics, abilities, or many years of specialized training. But this is not the case! Actually, it turns out that shifting your mindset and learning some simple tools and strategies can make a world of difference for both you and your exceptional students.
Based on the statistics, if you’ve been teaching music for any length of time, you’ve probably had more than a few students with ADHD. People with ADHD often have difficulty focusing, are easily distracted, make careless mistakes, and have difficulty staying organized. They may also have difficulty regulating their emotions and be quick to frustration or have angry outbursts. There are plenty of articles out there with fantastic ideas on how to adapt music lessons for students with ADHD—things like taking frequent breaks, front-loading the lesson with the most concentration-heavy material, and using kinaesthetic learning. This is all good! But I want to take a look at adapting for ADHD from a different perspective…
Online education comes with many challenges, but the rewards can be beneficial for your students. There are ways to make the most of your experience while contributing to accessible and continued music education.