Music drives staff mad

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Research suggests teachers are as tortured as the musical geniuses they teach about.

The cliche of the tortured musician is as relevant in the classroom as it is in the composer's garret, according to research.

From Beethoven, a compulsive washer who nonetheless wore filthy clothes, to Jimi Hendrix who died of a drug overdose, musicians have traditionally fallen victim to inner torment.

Now a study into music psychology in education reveals that music teachers are particularly susceptible to the inner demons stereotypically associated with the artistic temperament.

Anxiety, hysteria and paranoia are common traits in music teachers, it says. And the study adds: "These seem to be caused by the extremely high standards which music teachers set for themselves. Music teachers are among the most stressed, and particularly susceptible to burn-out."

But a number of classroom factors can also contribute to this stress, including pupil behaviour, excessive workload and low pay.

Teachers also react to unclear goals and insufficient recognition of their achievements. The most dedicated staff are often the worst affected.

Susan Hallam, of London university's institute of education, compiled a picture of music education, after examining existing research.

Strategies music teachers could use to cope with stress include religion, reading, diet, sports and muscle-tension relaxation techniques. Teachers also needed additional classroom management training, she said.

Hilary Meyer, of the National Association of Music Educators, said: "A music teacher is trying to get people to lose their inhibitions so if you appear not to have any, that can help. Hysteria implies being out of control. That's the last thing you want pupils to see. If you're teaching, it isn't all about big egos. You've got to put the children's interests first."

The research says music teachers also display positive qualities, including confidence, security, creativity and imagination.

Debbie Bailey, music teacher at Hemel Hempstead comprehensive, in Hertfordshire, said: "We do have high expectations. We work hard and look for perfection. But I don't think it's to the detriment of others.

"When you're in an arts subject, people joke about the artistic temperament. But it's no more in music than any other subject. It's about personality, not where your expertise is."

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

Music Psychology in Education is available from London's institute of education: www.ioe.ac.uk

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