Being a highly sensitive person or HSP as a music teacher isn't necessarily a walk in the park; it comes with some challenges for sure. But it can be done well and you can thrive as a music teacher HSP! I know because I am. :) Check out these tips below or watch here to get you started on thriving rather than feeling so overwhelmed:
Let me paint you a picture of my life a few years ago. My first music class comes into my classroom at 9:30 a.m., talkative and full of energy. We are ready to begin our fun but hard work for the day of becoming tune-ful, beat-ful, and art-ful people. I have a 30-year plan for my students: to be able to sing to their own children one day, to clap on a steady beat at a ball game or concert, and to be moved by expressive music in all sorts of contexts. My students experience the joy, the seriousness, the hard work, and the playfulness of music, and I consider it a great joy to accompany them on the journey.
As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I also consider it an exhausting vocation. I work with more than 500 children total: 10 half-hour classes per day with around 200 K-4th grade children. On my feet the whole time, every day, five days a week.
When my last class of the day walks out of my classroom, I sit briefly before bus duty and I sigh, always worn out but some days more encouraged than others. I might have more energy in the evening if I had a regular desk job, or perhaps a job that is less emotionally and physically taxing. Sometimes, I envy those jobs. But I don’t believe I would feel as fulfilled as I do knowing the impact I am making on the young people at my school.
Here’s why highly sensitive people like me are drawn to teaching — despite the overstimulation — and how I don't just survive but thrive.
Why Highly Sensitive People are Drawn to Caring Professions Like Teaching
Not all teachers are highly sensitive, and not all highly sensitive people are teachers. But I do believe that we HSPs are drawn to caring, nurturing, and creative professions like education. I’ve personally met countless other teachers who are sensitive (and some who are not...) and I think there’s a reason for it. Highly sensitive people tend to love students of all ages, learning, and helping others. In some ways, teaching fits us like a glove.
That doesn’t mean we’re necessarily well-suited to the environment of the classroom — in fact, my first semester teaching was awful. I struggled to balance my work and home life. Many of my students came into the classroom dealing with trauma of their own, and took it out on me. (This still happens, though each school is different.) I didn’t feel at all equipped to handle it. Honestly, I cried on the way home from school most days, and I'm not even much of a crier for being an HSP, I just had no other way to express the overwhelm I felt.
But I believe that highly sensitive people can overcome these challenges. In fact, I think our empathy, our creativity, and our awareness of others’ feelings help make us especially valuable in roles like teaching.
And I’ve learned a few strategies and ideas to make it much easier.
7 Ways to Succeed as a Teacher When You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
1. Learn to let go when your lessons don’t go as planned.
In my desire to do everything really well, I struggled a lot my first semester. Most things in education don’t go “as planned.” I learned that it’s more important how I respond when things don’t go as planned than IF they go as planned. This realization (which can be applied to most things in life) will take a lot of pressure off of you and allow you to be a better listener and educator.
2. Give yourself permission to say no.
It’s okay to have a day to eat lunch by yourself at work (even if you feel weird at first for not joining your coworkers in the staff lunchroom). It’s okay to build in “down” weekends to rest. It’s okay to stay home for an evening or two during conference week or concert week. It’s okay to not get another “real job” during the summers (in my case, I do odd jobs and plan for the next school year, teach music lessons, and teach occasional community education classes). Your body and your loved ones will thank you in the long run.
3. Your empathy is the superpower your students need.
There are many students who struggle in louder, chaotic, collaborative spaces like a music classroom. It’s more unstructured and less predictable, and that can be over-arousing for me as well as many of my students (whether or not they’re highly sensitive).
As highly sensitive people, our ability to say, “I see you, I understand you, and I am with you” — even while challenging them to grow and take risks — is a game-changer! It helps them confront their challenges without shame or self-doubt.
Our empathy also means we need to be gentle with ourselves. For example, you may struggle with secondary trauma when you see the hurt some of your students go through, or experience it yourself when they lash out. Being able to recognize your feelings not as being weak but as caring helps separate their pain from your own, and be a little more resilient on days when you struggle.