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What's Holding You Back?

Every music teacher has a vision in their mind of what they want the impact of their teaching career to be. Many times we imagine our students performing at an exceptional level in various ensemble settings, and receiving a top-notch musical education. We imagine that the impact of our teaching will span beyond the classroom and affect the community at large.

So how do we get from where we are to where we want to be? The first thing to do is to find out what’s holding us back and then find out how to overcome it.

So, what’s holding you back?


One of the biggest things that holds any teacher back is fear of failure. This usually manifests in the idea that whatever strides you attempt to make won’t work out or will be too hard to follow through with. For Instance you may be considering having an ensemble audition for a local music ed. Showcase. Fear of not making it could very subtly be stopping you from ever auditioning. What’s even worse than that is that fear of making it could be holding you back. That would mean that you would have to expose the product of your teaching and rehearsing of your students to a wider audience. Honestly having a performance ensemble perform outside of your school can be a scary thing, but the experience for you and your students of rising to the occasion may be just what you need.

How can you overcome fear? First, decide to be courageous. Courage isn’t lack of fear but deciding to act in the face of fear. Second find a reason that is more powerful than your fear. If you are afraid of striving for something that you actually want to do with your students, such as doing an outside performance or trying something new in your classroom, then realize that the growth that you will experience in taking a risk will be worth while. Also think about the effect that your performance will have on the community, advocating to show the worth of the arts.


Maybe you’ve overcome fear and taken the first step toward a worthwhile endeavor with your students. The next obstacle that can hold you back is expectations. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is good to have an expectation of your students and for how things should go in your classroom, however; expecting too much of your students can leave you feeling disillusioned. An example of this is if you had a group of students last year that were amazing natural singers and the group this year just isn’t quite up to par. Expecting this year’s group to be like last year’s or even comparing them to last year’s group can be counterproductive. We all know that students progress at different rates but if can be helpful to ask yourself if your expectations are unrealistic.


Allow your students to grow into expectations instead of living up to them. “What does that mean?” you may ask. Acknowledge your students progress toward the ideal expectations instead of expecting them to just meet the expectations. This is the embodiment of the growth mindset and gives your students a target to aim for instead of a mold to fit.

Limiting Beliefs

A limiting belief is an idea one holds about the capabilities of oneself or others that prevents them from discovering their true capabilities. An example of a limiting belief is believing that because a group of students come from an low socioeconomic background, that they will not be able to perform at the same level as students that come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Although this belief is widely addressed the danger is that the familiarity with this belief may actually “hide it in plain sight” so to speak and make teachers blind to it in their actions and thoughts.


Let your students' limits define themselves instead of defining your students' limits for them. Perhaps there is a piece of music that has a quality or difficulty that you think will be out of reach for your students. Maybe it will be and maybe it won’t but believing that your students won’t be able to handle it may be holding you back. This doesn’t mean that you should put high school level music in front of a third grader and expect them to be able to sing it but it is meant to challenge you to aim just a little bit higher and see what your students are capable of.


One of the most insidious things that may hold you back is perfectionism. Perfectionism is the idea that things need to be perfect or be done perfectly in order for them to be worth doing. Perfectionism leads to procrastination and dissatisfaction with what would otherwise be considered high-level achievement. An example of this would be expecting your students be able to perfectly play rhythms on unpitched percussion before moving to pitched percussion or expecting them to completely master one song before moving on to the next. This can be insidious because it values the ideal over growth and progress.


Aim for progress and growth instead of perfection. Find ways to track how students are moving to their musical goals instead of focusing on how far away they may be. But even more importantly learn to see your own progress and you’ll have more of it. Perfectionism only leads to procrastination.

These are only a few of the things that may be holding you and your students back. Please share other realizations in the comment section and help others to break past the barriers that are holding them back.

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