Considering "Gender-Complexity" in Music Teacher Education


Joshua Palkki, California State University, Long Beach

William Sauerland, Teachers College, Columbia University/Chabot College


Transgender (trans) people are “coming out” earlier than ever before (Beemyn & Rankin, 2011; Grossman, D’Augelli, & Salter, 2006; Stufft & Graff, 2011), and amidst the recent “gender revolution” in the U.S. (Henig, 2017), trans students face great challenges in schools (e.g., Greytak, Kosciw, & Diaz, 2009; Kosciw et al., 2012; McGuire, Anderson, Toomey, & Russell, 2010; Toomey, McGuire, & Russell, 2012; Wyss, 2004). Furthermore, teachers report feeling unprepared to work with trans students (Luecke, 2011; Nichols, 2013; Payne & Smith, 2014). As music educators are often supportive of LGBTQ students (Palkki & Caldwell, in press; Silveira & Goff, 2016), it is important that to explore what music teacher educators can do to understand the ever-expanding paradigms of gender identity and expression. It is imperative that music teacher educators, preservice teachers, and in-service teachers expand their notions about gender—away from a simplistic binary category toward a “gender-complex” (Rands, 2009) approach in which all students—cisgender, trans, genderqueer, questioning, and every other variation— can thrive.


This session will provide teacher educators with vocabulary, inclusive language, and suggestions to help themselves and preservice teachers navigate the rapidly changing gender landscape in American schools. The presenters will impart research-based suggestions regarding vocal pedagogy, repertoire, and vocabulary in an effort to continue the “gender dialogue” in music teacher education. In addition, sample lessons and projects for preservice teacher training will be shared. The presentation will also provide an update on the national policies that are affecting schools across the United States.


Policies surrounding transgender student bathroom use in schools are rapidly changing-- and a source of recent debate in schools, legislatures, and courtrooms. The Departments of Justice and Education of the Obama administration issued guidance regarding how transgender students should be treated in public schools (e.g., Lhamon & Gupta, 2016), recommendations that would aid trans students in expressing their gender identity at school. These guidelines are no longer supported at the federal level (Stack, 2017). The recent focus on “bathroom bills” is one part of a complex set of policies that trans people must navigate in schools, including: legal name change, rules about attire, and overnight trip rooming. In music education, policies surrounding uniforms, voice part assignments, seating/standing arrangements, and honor choir auditions may be complicated in light of students who are gender variant.


Additionally, trans teachers face complicated issues if they “come out” at school (Bartolome, 2016; McCarthy, 2003). This session provides teacher educators with ideas for how to support transgender preservice music teachers, who may face discrimination in both K-12 and university settings (McCord & Carrier, 2012).


Because music teachers often form meaningful rapport with students over several years in a music program (Carter, 2011), they can and should become “safe people” for queer students. Part of becoming safe people to foster safe spaces is learning about the complexities of gender and how they play out in music education.




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