“There's No There There”: Experiences of Six Rural Music Educators


Jocelyn Stevens Prendergast, Truman State University



Over half of the school districts in the United States are located in rural areas and they serve almost one quarter of the nation’s students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). Teaching music in these rural settings is extraordinarily varied; rural Appalachia is different from rural Montana and different still from rural New Mexico. While teaching music in rural schools involves particular joys and challenges (Bates, 2011; Hunt, 2009; Isbell, 2005; Prest, 2013; Spring, 2013; VanDeusen, 2016), very little research examines the experiences of teaching music in these settings. The lack of research on this topic contributes to the urbanormative view of music teaching (Bates, 2016), or what might be more accurately termed suburbanormativity. This suburbanormativity is overwhelmingly evident in everything from the NAfME Opportunity-to-Learn Standards (2015) to the manner in which state MEAs often designate tracks for scheduling sessions at annual conferences.


The lack of research in the area of rural music teaching also has important implications for music teacher educators. Without an understanding of the experiences of teachers in these diverse areas, teacher education curricula may not adequately prepare pre-service teachers for the realities of teaching music in more remote areas and may be unintentionally contributing to a deficit view of rural teaching by reifying suburbanormativity. However, despite the lack of status often involved in teaching in rural areas, almost 25% of pre-service music teachers indicate that they would teach in a rural school (Elpus, 2015).


This session is devoted to sharing the results of a multiple case study examining the experiences of six music educators teaching in rural schools in different locations in the United States. The backgrounds of these teachers, their music teacher preparation, and their subsequent teaching experiences in rural schools will be discussed as well as important implications for music teacher educators.




Bates, V.C. (2011). Preparing rural music teachers: Reflecting on “shared visions.” Journal of Music Teacher Education, 20(2), 89-98.

Bates, V.C. (2016). “Big city turn me loose and set me free.” A critique of music education as urbanormative. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, 15(4),161-77.

Department of Education. (2013). The status of rural education. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_tla.asp

Elpus, K. (2015). Music teacher licensure candidates in the United States: A demographic profile and analysis of licensure examination scores. Journal of Research in Music Education, 63(3), 314-355.

Hunt, C. (2009). Perspectives on rural and urban music teaching. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 18(2), 34-47.

Isbell, D. (2005). Music Education in Rural Areas: A Few Keys to Success. Music Educators Journal, 92(2), 30-34.

National Association for Music Education. (2015). Opportunity to Learn Standards [pdf]. Retrieved from http://www.nafme.org/wp-content/files/2014/11/Opportunity-toLearn-Standards_May2015.pdf

Prest, A. (2013). The importance of context, reflection, interaction, and consequence in rural music education practice. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 28(14), 1-13.

Spring, J. (2013). Perspectives of a rural music educator: A narrative journey through ‘sense of place.’ Rural Educator, 34(3), 27-37.

VanDeusen, A. (2016). “It really comes down to the community”: A case study of a rural school music program. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, 15(4), 56-75.