Rest and the Music Teacher

I don’t know about you, but as a teacher, I spend a lot of time talking about rests. I think they’re underrated. It’s often much harder to ‘play’ rests than the notes themselves. My students are probably fed up of hearing about them.

But, this post isn’t about those sorts of musical rests, it’s about rest.

One of the things which came out of my PhD research was the way in which private teaching in particular can have a negative impact on our energy levels. One of my key recommendations was that we should explore how we can support teachers to effectively manage their health, mental health and well-being:

“Professional organisations should seek to provide support and resources which address some of the concerns expressed by private teachers in relation to their health and well-being. Whilst teachers should be encouraged to embrace those relevant opportunities offered to performers, organisations should recognise that private teachers, and instrumental teachers more generally, might have specific needs which are not currently being addressed”

Barton, D. C. M. (2020) The autonomy of private instrumental teachers: its effect on valid knowledge construction, curriculum design, and quality of teaching and learning. Unpublished PhD thesis. London: Royal College of Music. p. 227.

Over in my Teaching Music Mindfully Facebook Group, we spent the month of January exploring the topic of rest. We thought about what rest means to us as teachers, where we find our rest, and how rest impacts our teaching. I’m going to be sharing some of the things which came out of those discussions in this blog post in the hope that you too, as a teacher, can reflect on rest.

What does it mean to feel rested?

There are over 15 definitions of the word ‘rest’ in the dictionary. My favourite was ‘a state of inactivity; a state of little or no motion; a state of completion’. But, what does it mean to you to feel rested?

Some teachers suggested that feeling rested meant being ready to go again, feeling recuperated and refreshed. It’s perhaps no surprise that being still, calm and at peace were also features of feeling rested. Feeling rested may also be about feeling content, positive and fulfilled.

What was clear was that rest was very different for each individual, and was something we each had to define in our own contexts.

Where do you find your rest?

Where do you find your rest? Maybe it’s doing a particular activity or visiting a particular place; maybe it’s a particular spot in the house or garden.

Teachers’ answers generally fell into two categories: places where we find rest, and things we do to find rest. In the former, the bath, being outside and being alone were places in particular where teachers found rest. Walking, listening to audiobooks, gardening and baking were all things teachers enjoyed doing which they found restful.

It’s interesting to note that music didn’t feature. Does teaching sap our enjoyment of music so it’s no longer a restful place for us? I know that’s something I struggle with.

How rested do you feel?

How rested do we actually feel? It’s perhaps no surprise that teachers tended to feel most rested during the holidays or just after, but that as soon as term was once again in full swing, those feelings faded fairly quickly.

Overall, most of us admitted we rarely felt rested, and when we did, these tended to be passing moments rather than an ongoing state.


How does rest impact your teaching?

How we feel as teachers inevitably affects our teaching, however we might try and hide it. Another thing which came up as part of my PhD research was that teachers felt a huge responsibility towards their students. That’s great, but I also know from personal experience that in my quest to do my best for my students, my own health and well-being can sometimes be some way down the pile.

Most of agreed that we taught better when we were fully rested. This led to less reactive and more creative teaching where we were able to remain fresh and problem-solve easily.

That said, teachers also recognised this could be a bit of a vicious cycle. Stressful teaching made it harder to rest, and lack of rest led to stressful teaching.

If you felt more rested, how would it impact your teaching?

It’s easy to say we don’t have time to rest. I’m guilty of that too. But looking after our own health and well-being as teachers is important, and it’s overlooked. We live in a society which glorifies ‘busy’.

However rest might look to you, if you could take more of it, how do you think that might impact upon your teaching?

There was a sense that with rest, we could approach our teaching with clearer minds. This resulted in less stress and more objective teaching. Teachers also recognised that at present, online teaching has led to an increased amount of screen time, and as a result, there was a need in a very practical way, to rest the eyes.

What action can you take?

In this blog post, we’ve explored the concept of rest and how that impacts both our own well-being and our teaching. Now it’s time to set yourself an action that leads to change.

Therefore, I challenge you to complete the statement below:

‘So that I can take more rest in 2021, I will…’

If you’d like to download the free PDF worksheet to accompany this blog post and to join in our other discussions, you would be very welcome to join other like-minded teachers in my free Teaching Music Mindfully Facebook Group.

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