Beware! It's the teacher who plays music in lessons

Everyone loves Mr Smith, who lets pupils listen to music while they work. But spare a thought for his colleagues, says Louise Lewis

Hand taps 'play' symbol on blackboard

Let me set the scene for you. It’s period four on a bleak Wednesday afternoon, it’s data week and Tuesday was open evening. Then you hear the immortal words: “Miss, can we listen to music while we do our work?” 

And so the tale begins. “But why not, Miss? Mr Smith* lets us listen to music.” 

Now, let me give you a heads up. Mr Smith is not, in fact, the exceptional music teacher, responsible for the best concerts the school has ever seen. 

No, Mr Smith is our dearly beloved maths teacher, who –  let’s be frank – is giving the students their own way in order to save his skin.

He behaves like a total renegade and bangs on the latest playlist for everyone in class to jam to, so that they lose focus on the work they should actually be doing.

Which is great. Mr Smith’s lessons fly by for Year 8. Even the trickiest of customers are compliant and far from disruptive. 

Dulcet tones and cheers

Late one Monday morning, Mr Smith’s lesson was moved to the classroom next door. Students were settling down quietly to complete their five-a-day, when through the hollow walls we hear dulcet tones and cheers. Here we go again. 

With eyes rolling, you look at the class and make it apparent that they should not even ask. But, really, they don’t need to ask: they are being provided with a run-through of the latest chart-toppers, courtesy of Year 8 maths. 

Mr Smith even gets a high-five from his class as they leave. With vibrant smiles and a feeling of smug pride, they leave the room with chants of: “Great lesson, Sir”; “Can’t wait for next week, Sir.” 

He is guaranteed a place on the wall of fame for favourite teachers. There are even murmurs of him being listed as “most inspirational member of staff” in the leavers’ yearbook. The rest of us, meanwhile, just have to listen to repeated chimes of: “When can we ever have our own way?” 

Flagrant disregard for the rules

All his colleagues, meanwhile, are left pulling their hair out at the flagrant disregard for the rules. By letting pupils listen to music, Mr Smith is giving himself an easy ride, without a single thought for his colleagues – or his students, if truth be told. 

He appears in the staffroom at lunchtime, smiling from ear to ear, self-congratulatory and full of smug pleasure at having won over the bottom set. 

The rest of us, worn down by incessant pleas, can barely make it to the next crust on our limp sandwich. 

Here’s a huge thank you to Mr Smith for using up five minutes of lesson time for every other teacher, while we explain why pupils aren’t going to be listening to music when they are completing their work. Why we are being boring and why school rules are important. Cheers!

So, to all the Mr Smiths and Ms Smiths out there: stop, in the name of love…For the profession, for students’ progress, and for my sanity, stop letting them listen to music in lessons. 


*Mr Smith is no way based on any member of staff I work with or have ever worked with. Honest. 

Louise Lewis is a research lead and deputy head of science in a Yorkshire secondary school. She tweets @MissLLewis

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