A Cultural Immersion Field Experience: Examining Preservice Music Teachers' Beliefs About Cultural Differences in the Music Classroom


Andrea J. VanDeusen, East Carolina University



Many teachers in the United States have limited experience with cultural diversity, and this lack of experience is reflected in their classroom practice (Delpit, 2006; Ladson-Billings, 2009; Lind & McKoy, 2016; Stachowski & Mahan, 1998). Sleeter (2001) found that teachers with little knowledge about, understanding of, or experience with cross-cultural teaching environments often held stereotyped beliefs about students whose racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds differed from their own, and were not prepared to teach in culturally diverse classrooms. Teacher educators, then, must recognize the importance of preparing pre-service teachers for teaching students whose cultural backgrounds differ from their own to help them succeed in teaching their future students (Ladson-Billings, 2009). Many teacher education programs address cultural diversity and seek to prepare preservice teachers for the array of educational settings that they may encounter, yet preservice and in-service teachers still feel unprepared to teach in settings that differ from their own backgrounds (Irvine, 2003; Sleeter, 2001).


This case study explored pre-service music teachers’ beliefs, assumptions, and understanding about teaching students whose cultural backgrounds differ from their own and examined the impact of a cultural immersion field experience on their understandings of culture and diversity as related to music teaching and learning. Research questions guiding this study were: 1) What are pre-service music teachers’ beliefs, perceptions, and assumptions about music teaching and learning with students whose cultural backgrounds differ from their own before participating in a short-term cultural immersion field experience? 2) In what ways do pre-service music teachers’ beliefs, perceptions, and assumptions regarding music teaching and learning with students whose cultural backgrounds differ from their own change during their participation in a short-term cultural immersion field experience? 3) How does the cultural immersion shape their beliefs and understandings of music teaching and learning in educational contexts that differ from their own cultural backgrounds after participating in the experience?


The participants, nine undergraduate music education students, spent one week observing and teaching in two elementary music classrooms in Dearborn, Michigan, a community in the Detroit metropolitan area with a large Arab and Muslim American population (Baker et al., 2004). Both elementary schools had large Arab immigrant and refugee populations. During their immersion week, participants lived in and engaged with the Dearborn community. Given the current relevance of misperception of and discrimination toward Arab and Muslim Americans, this immersion experience proved especially timely.


Participants did not immediately notice cultural difference in the music classroom. By engaging in first-hand experiences with Arab and Muslim children and by having disruptive experiences as cultural outsiders, participants developed a deeper understanding of their own implicit biases and of the importance of understanding culture in the classroom. Their experience led to greater empathy and understanding of Arab and Muslim students, and they developed a deepened understanding of the impact of culturally responsive teaching in the music classroom. Implications for practice and future research will be discussed.




Baker, W., Stockton, R. Howell, S., Jamal, A., Lin, A. C., Shryock, A., & Tessler, M. (2004). The Detroit Arab American study: Preliminary findings and technical documentation. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research.

Delpit, L. (2006). Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York, NY: The New Press.

Irvine, J. J., (2003). Educating teachers for diversity: Seeing with a cultural eye. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lind, V.R. & McKoy, C. L. (2016). Culturally responsive teaching in music education: From understanding to application. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sleeter, C. (2001). Preparing teachers for culturally diverse schools: Research and the overwhelming presence of Whiteness. Journal of Teacher Education, 52(2), 94-106.

Stachowski, L. L. & Mahan, J. M. (1998). Cross-cultural field placements: Student teachers learning from schools and communities. Theory into Practice, 37(2), 155- 162.