Preservice Music Teacher Identity Development


Kristen Pellegrino, University of Texas at San Antonio

Sean Powell, University of North Texas

Erik Johnson, Colorado State University

Cynthia L. Wagoner, East Carolina University


The purpose of this descriptive case study (Merriam, 2009) was to examine music teacher identity development.  Participants were senior music education majors (N = 21) at four institutions from three regions of America: southern, eastern, and western.  A collaboration of Music Teacher Socialization ASPA members, we are the first to use Olsen (2008) as a theoretical framework, which we hope will offer new insights into music teacher identity development. Through this research, we seek to address the mission of the our ASPA: “To address the undergraduate student’s transformation from student to teacher through program components and experiences,” as well as the 2017 symposium theme, particularly regarding “who will be engaged with music education.” 

Olsen proposed that teacher identity is a “dynamic, holistic interaction among multiple parts, including

·       prior personal experience (including family and schooling)

·       prior professional experience (including work with kids)

·       reasons for entry

·       teacher education experience (p. 25).

This is a departure from common views of music teacher identity that have included investigating the conflicts between musician identity and teacher identity, the way a person views themselves in a certain role (role identity), the way a person views themselves compared to their perception of how others view them (social interactionism), or the meanings of participating in activities of shared value within a community (Wenger, 1998).


Data were generated through learning-and-teaching teaching philosophies, background surveys, observations, and semi-structured interviews (Mertens, 2006). Our theoretical framework informed our background survey and interview questions, as well as our coding.  Participants completed background surveys describing their prior personal experiences and how any of these factors influenced their decisions to become music teachers (reasons for entry).  Topics included age, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, to SES status of parents while they were growing up. The final question was, “How have any of these answers, if at all, influenced you as a preservice music teacher, either positively or negatively?” Viewing music teacher identity in this way helped participants share whether or not (and if so, how) their personal background influenced their teacher identity.

Some participants experienced identity conflicts related to their sexual orientation, gender, and cultural background. For example, Chris graduated high school in 1986 and decided that being a teacher was not appropriate for him because teachers could be fired for being gay. He became a banker and returned to school over twenty years later because he felt the political climate was more accepting of gay teachers.  Participants included Latinos, a bipolar female, and a bisexual agender referred to as “they.” Participant journeys to becoming teachers varied, and each responded in a different way, which we related to reasons for entry and teacher education experiences (TEE). Dana and Tom experienced personal and academic setbacks during their senior years. Despite this, Dana continued through the program undaunted due to her strong sense of purpose and teaching philosophy whereas Tom did not. Sarah became disillusioned through her student teaching experience (TEE) and has decided against going into the music teaching profession. More findings and implications will be shared.




Merriam, S. B. (2009). Case study research in education: A qualitative approach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Olsen, B. (2008). How reasons for entry into the profession illuminate teacher identity development. Teacher Education Quarterly, 35(3), 23-40.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.