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An informed professional

Elizabeth Goddard encourages private teachers to reflect on their work and take pride in their professionalism

I would like to take a look at ourselves, the private teachers in today’s society. Private teaching has changed little in the last hundred years. However, it used to be fashionable to have a piano in the front room. Today it is more likely to be a keyboard and not everyone can afford an instrument, or indeed wants to. When we hear or read the word ‘music’ these days, it is more likely to refer to the latest concert by the Kaiser Chiefs. Classical music is seen as somewhat elitist. How does this affect us as private teachers? We have seen an ever increasing rise in jazz and pop music, in catalogues, exam syllabuses and music festivals. Fine - but don’t let us lose sight of our rich heritage of classical music handed down through the centuries.

In the 70’s and 80’s Sheila Nelson was known for her work in London’s east end with large groups of children. It was a great success, but folded because of lack of funding from the authorities. In 1997 another project, Buskaid, was set up by Rosemary Nalden in Soweto, South Africa, with the aim ‘that every child will have the opportunity to channel his or her creative energies and talents through learning and playing classical music to the highest international standards’. Those who heard them play at the Proms two years ago can vouch for the high standards achieved. Classical music is not just for the chosen few. Everyone should have the opportunity to enrich their lives through it.

We are fortunate in the ISM to have those opportunities. I joined early in my career and can remember well an afternoon in Bristol with Peter Maxwell Davies. He was Director of Music at Cirencester Grammar School and gave an inspiring account of activities he had set up there - singing, improvising and, of course, composing. Over the years there have been many other such occasions. How sad it is that centre events are often poorly attended. These occasions give us opportunities to meet and chat with our colleagues, providing important connections in an otherwise isolated situation. We all feel the pressures of work, but it is important for us to take time out. We need space to reflect on our teaching and gain inspiration from new ideas and new ways of presenting those ideas.

Perhaps the most challenging thing for me was signing up for the Mtpp course when it started. Mtpp then stood for ‘Music teaching in private practice’. Sometime later it was changed to ‘Music teaching in professional practice’. I would like all members of the PTS to feel proud of calling themselves professionals. What has this course done for me? Without doubt I have gained greater confidence and a new impetus to my teaching through a better understanding of pupils and their different approaches to learning. The Mtpp course addresses everything a teacher needs to become an informed professional and the ISM showed its commitment to professionalism when it set up the course with the University of Reading.

Elizabeth Goddard is the incoming Chair of the ISM's Private Teachers Section. This is an abridged version of her address from our 2009 annual conference, Exploring New Frontiers.