Mx. Music Teacher: A Conversation About Gender Nonconforming Preservice Teachers

Stephanie Prichard, University of Maryland
Joshua Palkki, California State University, Long Beach
Sarah Bartolome, Northwestern University

The topic of transgender rights continues to be a topic of much debate, earning a place among news headlines, receiving attention from education researchers, and even influencing the timing and location of the 2017 SMTE Symposium on Music Teacher Education. Although the conception of gender as a continuum becomes more commonplace, issues related to vocabulary, safe classroom environments, preservice teacher identity, and teacher presentation remain important topics of conversation and inquiry for music teacher educators.

Within the field of education, researchers have examined trans and gender nonconforming students’ experiences in K-12 schools, noting significant points of challenge and danger (Greytak, Kosciw, & Diaz, 2009; Kosciw et al., 2012; Nichols, 2013; McGuire, Anderson, Toomey, & Russell, 2010; Palkki, 2016; Wyss, 2004). Research indicates that the experience of gender nonconforming (or genderqueer) youth are more difficult than transgender people who subscribe to the gender binary (e.g., people who identify as male-to-female) (Rankin & Beemyn, 2012). Although student rights, experiences, and K-12 classroom inclusivity continue to be important points of discussion, the focus of this session will be the topic of gender nonconforming teachers.

In a professional landscape largely defined by gender binary distinctions like “Ms.” and “Mr.,” is education ready to accept “Mx.”? Will field experience supervisors understand use of singular they pronouns (Wayne, 2005)? Such questions are important as a teacher’s gender identity and expression are very much entwined in their teacher persona. Gender nonconforming teachers may or may not feel safe in “coming out” professionally, and at the very least are likely to face complicated issues in navigating this process in a K-12 classroom setting (Bartolome, 2016; Cavicchia, 2011; Irwin, 2002; McCarthy, 2003). Because students, parents, school district policy, and community values are all points of consideration, there continues to be a need for attention and conversation about gender variance in preservice and in-service teachers. One way to advance understanding in this realm may be through critical stories and exploration of lived experience (e.g., Kruse, 2016; McCarthy, 2003; Nichols, 2013).

The purpose of this Programs, Practices, and Issues presentation is to explore the needs and experiences of gender nonconforming preservice teachers throughout the music teacher preparation process. We will also explore music teacher educators’ roles and responsibilities in creating gender-inclusive spaces within music teacher education, teaching and mentoring gender nonconforming students as they prepare for a career in teaching music, and particularities of the teacher preparation process for students whose identity and/or presentation may present a challenge in terms of K-12 classroom perceptions.

Panelists will share experiences in mentoring a gender nonconforming student(s) within the context of a music teacher education program. Topics will include: a) navigating gender-inclusive language within a music teacher education program, b) nurturing teacher identity, c) K-12 practicum experiences, including students, parents, and school district policy, and d) entering the job market. Themes, challenges, and recommendations for practice will be discussed in an open forum.


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