“Not changing the ‘What,' but the ‘How'”: “Disrupting” Pre-Service Music Educators' Occupational Identities 


Daniel J. Albert, Augsburg College



Researchers have suggested that interactions prior to and during a music education program constantly influence the occupational identities of pre-service music educators (Blumer, 1969; Bouij, 2004; Roberts, 2003; Woodford, 2002). Furthermore, aspiring music teachers may wish to resemble their ensemble directors and teach in a similar manner (Campbell, 1999; Fredrickson & Williams, 2009). As a result, the music education profession has had difficulty adapting to cultural changes and expanding beyond the traditional ensemble paradigm to create educational opportunities for all students, regardless of previous music education experiences (Kratus, 2007; Williams, 2007, 2011).


Within the culture of a school of music, purposefully organized cohorts situated in a music teacher education program (e.g., methods courses, student teaching) have the potential to be considered communities embedded within a cultural cohort: a music teacher education program. Sociologists have suggested that a cultural cohort situated within a culture and the communities embedded within that cultural cohort can influence an individual’s occupational identity (Turino, 2008; Wenger, 1998). Therefore, examining how the embedded cultural cohort communities of a music teacher education program influence and “disrupt,” or challenge, pre-service educators’ occupational identities could be useful for music teacher educators who seek to change pre-service educators’ conceptions of the profession and encourage them to create music learning opportunities that are more congruent with children’s cultural practices and interests, thus facilitating educative experiences for all students beyond traditional ensembles.


The purpose of this study was to examine the interactions between cultural cohort members of a music teacher education program in communities embedded within the culture of a school of music and the role that these interactions played in “disrupting” pre-service educators’ occupational identities. Research questions were as follows:


1.     Why are certain communities within the cultural cohort particularly significant “disruptive” influences on pre-service music educators’ occupational identities? How are those “disruptions” created?

2.     How do these “disruptions” manifest themselves in pre-service music educators’ occupational identities? How do these “disruptions” manifest themselves in pre-service music educators’ conceptions of and beliefs about music education?


Data sources included a survey to determine which classes in the music teacher education program were the most impactful in “disrupting” their self-identities, focus group discussions with cohort groups, and individual student interviews. Results suggested that participation in early childhood, elementary/secondary general courses, and introductory courses that focus on additional means of teaching music (e.g., music technology, songwriting), teacher identity, and sociological issues in music education (e.g., sexual orientation, social class) with observations and teaching experiences were among the most “disruptive” forces for pre-service music educators, influencing them to adopt occupational identities as “educators” who envisioned themselves as teaching music through any type of educative experience, rather than ensemble-based “directors.”


Implications for practice include creating courses that critically examine sociological issues in teaching and expose students to non-performance based methods of music teaching with embedded observation and teaching experiences. Suggestions for future research include a longitudinal study of these cohort groups to determine if their pre-service “disrupted” identities influence what and how they teach as in-service educators.


*Data was previously presented at a 2016 NAfME Music Research and Teacher Education National Conference poster session.




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