Without License: A Case Study of a Non-Certified Middle School Music Teacher


Lisa Martin, Bowling Green State University



In recent years, alternative pathways toward teacher licensure have drawn the attention of policymakers and teacher educators alike. Supporters of alternative pathways value their flexibility and appeal to a broad market, while critics of nontraditional licensure options show concern for program rigor and quality (Levine, 2006). In music education, several researchers have investigated types and availability of alternative pathways toward music teaching (Dye, 2011, 2013), emphasizing the need to ensure both content knowledge and pedagogical expertise develop throughout any certification program (Hellman et al., 2011).


In addition to alternative licensure programs, there are an increasing number of teaching opportunities available to those who choose not to pursue licensure. For example, in many states, charter and independent schools are able to circumvent traditional teacher certification requirements when hiring personnel (Baker & Dickerson, 2006). Consequently, candidates lacking formal experience or training in the classroom may end up securing K-12 teaching positions.


This case study focused upon the experiences of a non-certified educator teaching music in a public charter school. Holly, a second-career music educator, spent a decade in technical sales before renewing her interest in the performing arts. She shifted her career focus toward music, creating a successful community musical theater company and establishing a robust private vocal studio. In her 40s, she returned to college to earn her Bachelors degree in vocal performance but opted not to pursue licensure.


To complement her musical theater and private instruction, Holly accepted a position teaching choir and musical theater to sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students at a local charter school. The charter schoolÕs hiring committee chose Holly for the position over other candidates with both licensure and K-12 music teaching experience. Although HollyÕs community theater and studio teaching helped prepare her for the position, traditional classroom teaching presented unique challenges.


In the spring of 2015, data were collected in the form of semi-structured interviews, teaching observations, professional artifacts, and electronic communication. Initial findings highlight the differences in private instruction versus classroom teaching, particularly in terms of social dynamics and motivation orientations. Other findings showcase the need to develop pedagogical content knowledge on-the-job (Shulman, 1987), as well as how occupational identity may be enhanced through professional relationships and responsibilities.


As the number of charter and independent schools continue to increase, so may the number of non-certified music educators in K-12 classrooms. This case study highlights potential benefits and drawbacks to bypassing licensure in music teaching. The discussion will also address implications surrounding the hiring committeeÕs valuation of teacher credentialing.




Baker, B.D., & Dickerson, J.L. (2006). Charter schools, teacher labor market deregulation, and teacher quality: Evidence from the Schools and Staffing Survey. Educational Policy, 20(5), 752-778.

Dye, C. K. (2011, September). A description of alternative routes to music education certification in selected states. Poster session presented at the Symposium on Music Teacher Education, Greensboro, NC.

Dye, C.K. (2013, September). National trends in participation in alternate routes to music education certification. Research paper presented at the Symposium on Music Teacher Education, Greensboro, NC.

Hellman, D.S., Resch, B.J., Aguilar, C.E., McDowell, C., & Artesani, L. (2011). A research agenda for alternative licensure programs in music education. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 20(2), 78-88.

Levine, A. (2006). Educating School Teachers. Washington, DC: Education Schools Project. Retrieved from http://www.edschools.org/pdf/educating_teachers_report.pdf

Shulman, L.S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22.