You might imagine there is not much time to be lonely in music teaching. In the middle of frenetic rehearsals for concerts, paperwork for the next departmental trip and classroom teaching, it may seem like madness to think otherwise.
But what if, when the music stops and the students leave, all is eerily quiet? What if there is no one to bounce ideas off? How do you handle the same management expectations for development and self-evaluation as the English department with no one to work alongside? This is the life of the one-person music department.
My department was always like a ghost town on Inset days. A music department is usually alive with sound and activity, but the silence as I wrestled with departmental planning from my remote classroom chambers was positively deafening.
I might have been alone in the music department, navigating what felt like a solo voyage, but I knew I was not the only one in such a setting. It is a scene familiar to music teachers. Often there are just not enough classes to justify more staff. So I always found it heartening to meet other music teachers at local music networks and cluster meetings. There were others who, like me, struggled with the workload, didn't know where to start with teaching Indian classical music, or tried to split themselves into three, conducting two ensembles at once while emailing with their feet. We never had many answers, but there was solace and as we swapped stories and experiences, there was the reminder that music made a real difference to young people's lives. We all wanted to do our best for them.
Finding strategies not only to survive but to have the energy and inspiration for quality teaching is crucial, so seeking out musicians teaching in other departments and asking for their partnership in extra- curricular music-making can help. Setting realistic goals and ensuring senior managers understand your vision and your limitations can help, too. Moving out of your department for music-making and keeping in touch with other teachers can also be a vital lifeline. Keeping informed of the latest music curriculum changes and looking for new ideas to use in the classroom needs to be a regular practice. Working alone need not lead to stagnation, but it needs effort and even courage.
I no longer work alone. I have trusted colleagues and we share ideas and teaching practice daily. Departmental meetings take longer than they used to, but I know my teaching is enriched by such discussions - I have been lucky. Being a one-person department need not mean stasis, but isolation is never really splendid. What is more important to the music teacher - vision and gritty determination or conducting skills? Discuss.
Anthony Anderson is music subject leader and advanced skills teacher at Beauchamp College, Leicestershire
On the forums
"One-person department in a big academy" - see suggestions for a worried music teacher, while another gets advice on how to handle a new group of Year 10s
See www.tes.co.ukresources005 for all links and forum discussions in this issue.