Ideas and Advice for Real Songwriters (formerly http://healthsavy.com

A Day in the Life of a London Music Teacher

6.00 – Wake up, mutter about the October chill, stumble from bedroom attempting not to wake other half who gets to wake up at a reasonable time every day.

6.10 – Over thick, treacle-like black coffee, check work email. Realise you have 100 things to do today, quite apart from the five lessons you have to teach.

6.45 – leave house, muttering once again about October chill, and hoping trains will be on time.

7.45 – Train does not arrive. Headache begins.

– Arrive at school half an hour later than expected. There are ten minutes remaining before first lesson. In this time I must photocopy worksheets for 3 classes, move amplifiers and practice PA into classroom and attend a staff meeting that began 5 minutes ago.

First lesson. Double period. Small year 11 class is learning learning a gospel influenced pop song as a group (class contains two keys players, one drummer, one bass player, two singers. Good mix.).

A few seconds listening – it’s one chord progression all the way through, mostly moving in fifths:

Ab Eb Bb F/A Cm

I think ‘I should steal that, it’s a good progression’. Lyrics are saccharine and unpleasant, but I quite like the wordy melody.

The drummer is playing too loud, one of the keyboard players insists on staying two beats behind everyone else and the singers are too shy to make enough noise to be audible despite being very good at what they do in private.

The class realise (With a little coaxing) that the original version of the song doesn’t have enough contrast in it, and we’ll have to do our own arrangement. We start changing things up, but keyboard player is more interested in blasting out piano riff from ‘Still Dre’, singer who originally chose the song is moaning about having to sing it and drummer has to show us how his heavy metal blast beats are progressing.

Headache is a subtle drone at the back of my skull.

10.30 Break Time. 5 minutes spent getting year 11 kids out of room (Teenagers walk incredibly slowly, and [if male] in a lopsided manner).

I realise that I need to use this time to do paperwork for next Thursday’s Black History Month concert.

[I’m not sure how much I agree with importing a very worthy, but very American concept into an English school. Sure we’re multicultural – 3 quarters non white, roughly 30 different languages spoken, pupils’ backgrounds include African (particularly Ghana and Nigeria), Caribbean, Polish, Lithuanian, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri-Lankan, Somalian, Afghani, Iranian. Black History Month is a very different thing to the traditional American concept and I’m not sure whether we’ve got it right yet. I’d rather every month recognised non-European history, but I understand the point of special awareness raising months to counter historical imbalances.]

Nevertheless, letter to parents written and passed on to admin staff to send out, posters printed, tickets printed, email sent out to staff involved – this is all a week later than it should have been as government inspectors were in during previous week.

Headache moves to rear of left eye.

10.55 – Form time. I haven’t prepared anything. Most pupils happy to sit and chat, some do homework in class computers, others play keyboard happily. Pupil A is more interested in placing Pupil B in a headlock, which I don’t notice immediately as Pupil C (not a member of my form) has decided to come into room unannounced to express his teenage love for Pupil D by pushing her, attempting to steal her bag, then running out of the room.

Pupil D races out in hot pursuit, by which time Pupil B’s cries have got my attention. The threat of detention splits them apart but ensuing bad language forces me to explain yet again why using ‘gay’ as a derogatory term is unnacceptable. As several pupils are members of odious African churches, this argument is resisted fiercely. I am not allowed to suggest that the best thing to do with the advice of religious figures is to assume the opposite is true.

Headache behind both eyes and at base of neck.

11.25 – First of three back to back year 7 classes – I teach the lower ability half of the 11-12 year olds in our school.

The lesson involves taking the names of famous musicians, turning them into a rhythm, then adding notes to create a short ostinato.

Class 1 manage to stand behind chairs, ready to start lesson after only 7 minutes of noise and foolishness. They love the idea of turning ‘Alicia Keys’ into an ostinato, but do not have the skills to work with a partner creating their own version. (Except pupil E and F, who are wonderful.)

Class 2 manage to stand behind chairs ready to start lesson after 10 minutes of noise and foolishness. I make them line-up outside classroom and re-enter room twice. They two love the idea of turning ‘Alicia Keys’ into an ostinato, and as a whole group are more than capable of singing this and me ‘Steve Vai’ ostinato in two parts. I try asking them to go to the keyboards to create their own ostinatos. Some great successes, some abysmal failures. Several pupils have discovered the sound effects kit on the keyboard. My pleas that cow and gunshot sound effects are un-pitched fall on deaf ears.

I realise I will need to go back to basics with these pupils – lack of group co-operation skills is hampering musical progress.

13.25 – Lunch break. I chase up emails for BHM concert, help some pupils with keyboard practice, attempt to unpack some boxes of office equipment and try to get some of our newly refurbished practice rooms into some sort of order. I also answer some email correspondence, and drink some water.

Headache eases somewhat.

14.00 – Class 3 – we try pair work – pupils run straight to keyboards despite clear instructions not to do so – we are trying a vocal exercise. Bring pupils back, repeat instructions. They run straight to keyboards again.

Time to improvise

Bring pupils back for third time, go through some simple pair work games designed to increase team skills in a fun way. They engage and enjoy them. We then try the musical activity again. Half attempt it, half run straight to keyboards.

We attempt keyboard composition activity. It works with half of class.

Back to the drawing board with year 7 for next week. They’re lovely kids, but clearly aren’t getting it at the moment.

15.00 wolf down half of lunch I didn’t have time to eat at lunch break.

15.15 meeting on teaching and learning. Yawn. Headache reaches crescendo.

16.30 eat other half of lunch, which is stale and unpleasant. Finish more correspondence re: BHM concert.

17.00 Leave for home. Headache beats out counterpoint to rhythm of train.

18.30 answer some more work emails, begin preparing lessons for next day.

22.00 To bed, only half prepared for next day.

Believe it or not, I love this job.

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