In this interview with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, he makes it clear that he believes that music teachers in particular should not feel that they cannot touch a child during a lesson when trying to help them improve their technique. For years now, we music teachers have been aware of the dangers of children misconstruing such contact, particularly as we tend to teach on a one to one basis, generally in a room as far away from the rest of humanity as possible in case our noise disturbs anyone. Advice was issued by our local authority, when I taught for them, to teach only in a room with a glass window in the door, not at the end of a corridor and if necessary with the door open.
Oh yes, the Maths department would LOVE that!
Believe me, teaching a child how to do vibrato verbally is a non-starter! Most youngsters think they have to wiggle their hands rather than the whole forearm and I always end up holding their wrists, as if in a splint, and doing the motion for them until they feel the rhythm and sense of it and start to be able to reproduce it themselves. Usually as I move towards them I say, “Excuse me – they always say don’t touch the children, but I’m going to have to if you’re going to get this right!”
So far, ( 35 years or so of teaching later) I haven’t had any problems with that approach.
There have also been occasions when kids get upset during lessons. This is not because I’m a nasty person, I hasten to add! Quite the opposite – I have a good rapport with all my pupils, adults included, and they tend to tell me their tales of woe on occasions, again probably because it’s one to one and I actually have time to listen to them. I’m a warm, emotional, tactile person. I’m a Mum who sees an upset child and want to offer some comfort. To stand back, saying “sorry you’re upset but my reputation is worth more than giving you a hug” is just plain inhuman in my view.
A spokeswoman from the Musicians’ Union was interviewed to put the opposing view to Mr Gove’s. She argued that children should be taught by example and watching, and would learn more effectively that way. Try telling one of my blind pupils to watch how to hold the bow! With sighted children I try to be a good rôle model and encourage them to practise in front of a mirror trying to look like me (poor things!) but for some of my pupils this luxury is not available. I appreciate this is a special case. Nevertheless, THOSE children are quite used to people touching them in an appropriate manner to guide them in the right direction in all senses. I’m told that dancers and gymnasts just accept that their teachers will be pulling them around in lessons. Accept that, or don’t take lessons. “End of” – as they say!
I have a piano teaching colleague, who, in order to avoid physical contact, uses a pencil to poke errant child’s hand, finger, wrist, into the right position for correct technique. Now THAT is what I call perverted!
Thank you, Mr Gove for bringing an element of reason to this land, which has been slipping ever further down that slope of suspicion, accusation and litigation. I’m with you!