What We Don’t (But Should) Teach Undergraduate Music Education Majors

Amanda Kastner, University of Florida


The purpose of this literature review was to examine existing literature on what is currently taught to preservice music educators and address what preservice and inservice teachers perceive as missing from the curriculum.  If the goal of music teacher education is to prepare students for inservice teaching, we must critically examine the gaps in content and pedagogical knowledge to address them.  A review of the literature indicates that administrative and organizational skills, classroom management skills, practical applications, and soft skills are not being adequately addressed by current preservice music education curricula.  These gaps can be addressed by adding more courses or content to the current curricula, utilizing CNAfME as an educative space, adding online modules throughout the curriculum, and be empowering cooperating teachers to incorporate these areas in their supervision and instruction of preservice and student teachers in their classroom.  By addressing these gaps, preservice and student teachers may be better prepared for their inservice teaching, mitigating the effects of burnout.  

            Keywords: music teacher education, music education curriculum, preservice music education, music student teaching



What we don’t (but should) teach undergraduate music education majors

            The goal of undergraduate music education preparation programs is to provide knowledge and experience for preservice and student teachers that will help them to be successful inservice teachers.  In order to continue to provide a complete education, music teacher educators must critically review their curricula for gaps in content and pedagogical knowledge.  Not only will a comprehensive education prepare preservice and student teachers to adjust to classroom, it may help to mitigate factors of burnout.  Madsen and Hancock (2002) found that teachers are leaving early in their careers (within five years) and in the later stages of their career at approximately the same rate.  Comments from teachers who left the field indicated that lack of support was a factor in their decision to leave.  This support can be both externally from their current administration, but also the support and knowledge they received during their preservice education.  The authors also stated that teachers who are not well-equipped to deal with the demands of teaching may find that the cons of remaining a teacher outweigh the pros.  By providing a well-rounded and complete education for preservice music teachers, we can support them in their field experiences and throughout their career.  In order to provide a complete preservice music education curriculum, music teacher educators must examine what is currently offered and where gaps may exist in the content and pedagogical knowledge.  

Review of Literature

            The literature on music education curricula covers a broad range of topics from frameworks, NASM standards, preservice teacher concerns, student teacher perceptions, teacher perceptions, and administrator perspectives on social skills of music teachers.  Examining each area for what is covered or perceived as highly valued can inform music teacher educators of the broad themes across universities and what areas might be missing.

The framework for music teacher education by Wiggins (2007) discussed the need for transfer and overlap between the subject areas presented in the curriculum.  Separating content into defined class units will be a detriment to music teacher educators who need to synthesize this information into themes that they will present it to their future students.  Millican (2008) wrote that pedagogical knowledge was consistently ranked with high value by music teachers but that administrative knowledge was also an important aspect of teacher education and may form the foundation that other knowledge and skills rest on.  

In a survey of preservice music students, Forsythe, Kinney, and Braun (2007) found that a substantial majority of the teacher attributes and competencies in the NASM handbook are important for teacher competence.  The researchers then examined comments from teacher education faculty and found that the university professors believed that that NASM standards may be necessary, but may not be sufficient.  The NASM handbook, then, provides a starting point for what competencies and attributes are necessary for successful teachers, but cannot account for every possible context that inservice teachers may encounter.  Using the NASM handbook as a foundation for the curriculum is a starting point, not an end goal.

Preservice Music Teacher Concerns

            When identifying gaps in content and pedagogical knowledge, examining the perceptions and concerns of preservice teachers can provide initial data.  Fuller (1969) developed a model to organize the concerns of teachers into three areas: concerns about self, concerns about tasks, and concerns about the impact of teaching.  This model has been utilized by researchers in music education to explore the concerns of preservice music teacher educators.  

Campbell and Thompson (2007) found an increase in all three areas of concerns over time, but that the levels of concerns may be highly contextual and based on prior experience as K-12 music students.  The views that preservice music teachers have about teaching are often idealistic and do not match the field experiences they will have.  Campbell and Thompson (2007) stated that this lack of preservice music teacher understanding of authentic music teaching may contribute to their difficulties in the early years of teaching.  This discrepancy between what we teach preservice music teachers and what they experience in the classroom is not serving the future of our profession. 

Berg and Miksza (2010) applied the Fuller model to preservice music teachers and found that task concerns were the most prevalent at the beginning and end of field experiences.  The task-related concerns that were most common among participants at the end of the field experience were time usage and planning.  Rapport with students and teacher personality were the most common self concerns and motivation was the most common impact concern.  

Miksza and Berg (2013) continued to follow the cohort of preservice teachers from the 2010 study through their student teaching.  Preservice music teachers’ self and task concerns decreased over time and student concerns increased over time.  While task concerns did diminish over time as preservice teachers automatized task-related issues, they reappeared if a preservice teacher was presented with a new context.  Self concerns that remained constant were rapport, personality, and identity.  The task concerns that were present throughout the study period were content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge.  Impact concerns that carried through the study period were related to motivation and differentiation.  

Through these studies the data indicate that preservice music teacher concerns are not linear, but can change depending on context and demands placed upon them.  The areas with the most concern were authentic teaching and practical application, relationships with students, and day-to-day teacher tasks.  Being aware of the self, task, and impact concerns of preservice music educators can allow us to incorporate more of that content into our curriculum  

Student Teacher Perceptions

            In addition to preservice music educator concerns, the perceptions of student teachers can illuminate areas of weakness in the curriculum.  While student teaching is largely outside of the control of university professors, being aware of the concerns of student teachers may help us leverage different practices from cooperating teachers in the future.

In a study of student teacher perceptions, Hourigan and Scheib (2009) discussed the skills, abilities, and understandings necessary for success during student teaching.  Participants listed administration and organization; classroom management; interpersonal and musicianship skills; content and pedagogical knowledge; and a work ethic as necessary for success.  These skills, abilities, and understandings seem to cover the gamut of what is required of student teachers during their field placement. 

            Schmidt (2010) examined student teacher’s experiences with peer teaching, university-mandated field experiences, student teaching, and self-arranged teaching experiences using the lens of Dewey’s theory of experience.  Participants did not have identical experiences, but created their own personal meaning.  Learning was supported by both action and reflection when interacting within the community of educators.  The most difficult aspect for music teacher educators is that this learning and experience is taking place outside of the direct control of university supervisors. 

            The overall weaknesses perceived by student teachers were administrative and organization skills, classroom management skills, content and pedagogical knowledge, and work ethic.  Knowing that each student teacher will experience their placements in different ways is not necessarily a negative aspect.  We can utilize Dewey’s theory of experience to provide a placement for students that will best meet their needs and develop their personal areas of weakness.  

Inservice Teacher Perceptions

            Reflections of inservice teachers are appropriate because these music educators are out in the field and can provide perceptions on what they believe was missing from their preservice education now that they are immersed in teaching.  Learning the perceptions of inservice teachers can help music teacher educators refine their curricula to adapt to the needs of the future teachers in their program.  

Brophy (2002) surveyed teachers and asked them to reflect on their undergraduate music education training and curricula.  The data indicated that beginning teachers felt most prepared to teach historical and cultural connections as well as reading and writing music, but they were least prepared to teach improvisation and composition.  About half of participants felt prepared to teach singing, interdisciplinary studies, listening, and playing instruments.  Student teaching and methods classes were listed as the most useful courses; however, methods classes were also listed as one of the least useful along with general education classes.  Suggestions for improvement included evenly dividing the curriculum between coursework and field experience.  Overall, participants believed that student teachers were weakest in the areas of lesson planning, sequential delivery of instruction, and classroom management.  Participants recommended that student teachers should increase their field experiences and study of pedagogy prior to student teaching.  

In a review of literature, Conway (2001) listed several areas that were sources of difficulties for beginning music teachers.  Among the challenges were the wide certification range in music (K-12), high performance pressures, administrators who were unfamiliar with the content, noisy classrooms, and the large amount of administrative responsibilities that music teachers are responsible for.

            Conway (2002) then studied the perceptions of beginning music teachers, mentors, and their administrators on preservice music teacher preparation.  The beginning music teachers who participated in the study listed student teaching, preservice fieldwork, and growth of musicianship as the most valuable aspects of their teacher preparation program. These aspects also happen to be the parts of the teacher preparation program that university teachers have the least control over.  The least valuable aspects of the preservice preparation program were general teacher education courses, early observations without context, and some instrumental methods courses.  The beginning teachers also provided suggestions for the preservice preparation program: taking courses out of the prescribed track, combining instrumental methods courses to highlight transfer across instrument techniques, and extended student teaching.  The administrators and mentors suggested de-tracking programs, extended teaching, better preparation for working with beginners, and better preparation with administrative duties.  Interestingly, the administrators believe that the university professors should be teaching administrative duties and the researcher believes that the schools should be providing this training and support.  

            Ten years later Conway (2012) followed up with the participants of the initial study on beginning teachers.  The participants’ reflections were in agreement with the 2002 results.  In addition to listing the same most and least valuable aspects of teacher preparation programs, participants added updated views on teacher education, which include experience as the best teacher, preservice preparation is doing the best it can, and that preservice students will out of their preparation what they put into it.  They also gave suggestions on improving teacher education which included more variety in fieldwork settings, more broad teacher education preparation, and a focus on the practical application of what is learned in the preparation program. 

            Legette (2013) also examined perceptions of early-career music teachers on their preservice preparation.  Participants expressed a perception that the content of their methods courses were too abstract and that there is a need for hands-on experiences so that they could apply the pedagogical concepts whey were learning.  A majority of participants also expressed that they were experiences the challenges of large class size, time constraints, energy demands, classroom management and a lot of paperwork.  Participants also suggested that teacher training give more attention to aspects of teaching such as program organization, behavior modification techniques, time and stress management, legal issues, budgeting, paperwork, and effective communication with stakeholders.  Providing attention to the professional and practical aspects of teaching could help students be less anxious in the early stages of their careers. 

            Overall, general overview courses seem to be the least helpful without the practical application of their content.  Inservice teachers also indicated that field experiences are valuable and should be varied in nature, but structured and in context so that the experiences can be reflected upon and reinforce the traditional classroom learning.  Learning more about what happens off the podium when not teaching was also perceived as lacking.  These areas should be incorporated into the classroom content of the music teacher education program to prepare students not only for field experiences but their inservice teaching.  

Administrator Perspective and Social Skills

            The perspectives of administrators can be helpful in diagnosing areas of need for inservice music educators because of the interaction they have after the music teacher completes the undergraduate program.  Gaining the perspective of administrators can also help solidify collegial relationships between music teachers and their supervisors.  By asking practicing administrators what they perceive as gaps in the education, we can prepare future music teachers to be more employable because they have those skills and knowledge.  

As a former administrator, Hart (2003) wrote an article with suggestions of practical skills for music educators to help them become successful.  The three skill areas that are listed are described as soft skills, or character traits.  The first soft skill is integrity, which is defined as the ability to apply ethical behavior, take responsibility, and to be honest and fair.  Actions of integrity include maintaining confidentiality, following through on commitments, acknowledging the rights and feelings of others, sharing information, keeping conflict quiet, taking responsibility, and being consistent. Respect, the second soft skill, is defined as having respect for various viewpoints, perspectives, cultures, and values as well as having open and honest interpersonal interactions with others.  The actions of respect include listening, giving constructive feedback, being flexible, trusting others, thinking before acting, using appropriate language, and taking a personal interest in others.  Community, or collegiality, is the third soft skill and is defined as being responsive to the needs of colleagues.  The actions of community include being a team player, being responsive, sharing, and serving others.  Hart also listed five other characteristics that will lead to success: maintaining a positive attitude, contributing to a climate that promotes open idea sharing, being willing to take on challenges outside your comfort zone, pursuing professional interests, and staying current in the field.  While discussing all of these soft skills and characteristics, Hart noted that they aren’t taught in teacher education programs, but can affect the future job status of a teacher.  

            Johnson (2014) examined preservice music teachers’ social skills and found three areas that are directly related to teaching effectiveness: emotional expressivity (nonverbal communication), emotional sensitivity (the ability to read and interpret others’ nonverbal communication), and social control (presenting yourself in a favorable way and guiding social interactions).  After defining the terms, Johnson describes how they will apply in teacher interactions with administration, colleagues, support personnel, parents, the community, and students.  

            The soft and social skills that were mentioned align with dispositions that we attempt to include in our preservice music education.  The challenging part of teaching dispositions is the objective assessment of when and how fully students are employing those skills.  Helping future music teachers to understand the importance of these skills and that their future administrators are looking for these skills, as are other stakeholders, it may be easier to teach these skills to preservice teachers because they will see the practical applicability.  

What We Don’t (But Should) Teach

            Based on the above research, preservice teachers are missing out on learning administrative and organizational skills, classroom management skills, the practical applications of the content they learn, and soft skills.  These areas have been found in preservice and student teachers, inservice teachers, and mentioned by administrators as skills that are required for music educator success.  The overlap between areas confirms the importance of these areas of content and pedagogical knowledge.  

            The administrative and organizational skills that are required for teaching can be summarized quickly as everything that happens outside of teaching students and conducting music, what I call the “behind the desk” tasks.  Information management and organization is a large portion of non-teaching responsibilities.  Teachers are responsible for maintaining records on students, including grades, as well as records on the inventory and program information.  Paperwork and budgeting were also mentioned in the literature as some of the administrative tasks that can overwhelm teachers.  While we may teach preservice teachers general planning techniques, applying those concepts practically when they become inservice teachers has been listed as an issue as well.  The administrative and organizational tasks will vary between schools and districts, which may be a reason they are not addressed in the preservice music curriculum. 

            Similar to administrative and organizational skills, classroom management is difficult to address in the undergraduate music education curriculum because the context in which teachers work varies so widely and it is impossible to prepare preservice teachers for every possible classroom management situation.  However, if researchers, preservice, and inservice teachers are all in agreement that classroom management is a weak point for teachers, perhaps we should be attempting to address more possibilities through practical curriculum and field placement opportunities.  

            The undergraduate music education curriculum is full of theories about teaching and psychology that are mean to help preservice teachers understand the background, purposes, and methodological approaches to educational decisions.  While these theoretical foundations are important, research indicates that preservice, student, and inservice teachers perceive a gap between the theoretical knowledge and the practical applications of that content and pedagogical knowledge.  Without practical application, the content and pedagogical knowledge that preservice teachers learn may go unused, to the detriment of their students.  

            The final gap identified in the literature are soft and social skills.  Music teacher educators often refer to these as dispositions.  These skills may be difficult to teach and assess, however it is important that future music educators are at least aware of the types of soft and social skills that will enable them to be successful in relation to stakeholders of their music program.  

Incorporation into the Current Curriculum

            The content that would fill the gaps identified by the literature can be included in the preservice music education curriculum by adding more to our existing courses, as topics for CNAfME (College National Association for Music Education) meetings, online modules serving as supplements to courses, and through cooperating teachers in field placements.  

            Although Conway (2002) stated that a stand-alone course in administration might not be the best way to incorporate that knowledge into a curriculum, it could be helpful for preservice music teachers.  It is impossible to teach for every possibility, however, we can provide some general practical applications of what types of administrative and organizational tasks teachers may face and strategies for dealing with them.  By providing these strategies, we may mitigate some of the factors that cause teachers to burnout or leave early in their careers.  If we can prepare students for the “behind the desk” tasks and the result is that teachers stay in their positions longer, we would be benefitting not only the profession but the students in those K-12 programs.  A course in administration and organization could be practically applicable by encouraging students to seek out current music educators and learn how they deal with these types of tasks and duties.  Preservice educators could develop skeletal versions of administrative and organizational tools that could be adapted to many situations through this course.  Music education curricula are often full to the brim with courses, but an administration course could benefit preservice teachers.  

            Collegiate chapters of NAfME could also be utilized to address some of these issues.  By bringing in practicing teachers to discuss the gaps in content, music education programs could start to fill those areas with practical content.  Utilizing CNAfME meetings could also provide a safe environment for preservice teachers to experiment with their new knowledge for the first time with peers rather than in front of students and a cooperating teacher observing them.  Once teachers are inservice, they could be asked to come back to their university’s CNAfME chapter meetings to share what they have learned in their first years of teaching to help bridge the divide between pre- and inservice teachers.  CNAfME meetings can be outside of the graded curriculum, which could provide a better place where preservice teachers can develop dispositions (soft skills), which are inherently difficult to assess.  The low-stakes environment of CNAfME meetings would be an appropriate place to incorporate advice from inservice teachers and disposition coaching.

            If credit limitations do not allow an administration course and time limits in preexisting courses does not allow content additions, online modules could be added to existing courses with supplemental material covering the content gaps identified.  These supplemental online modules could be added to courses throughout the curriculum that they align with most closely and revisit content as needed throughout the program.  The design of these modules could be diverse, utilizing both digital and physical resources and allow students to show their learning in a variety of ways from traditional quizzes through multimedia projects.  Though this option does not take class time, it does require more time from preservice music teachers and university professors to complete and grade the activities in the module.  One benefit to these types of additions is that they can often be revisited after the course is over if a student wishes to review a resource that was included in a module.  The ability to go back and see the module content could benefit new inservice teachers who may not recall every detail from their undergraduate work but know where to find the details they are missing.  

            Cooperating teachers supervising students during field experiences and student teaching can also be utilized to fill the gaps in content.  Typically, preservice and student teachers are focused on observing content delivery, however, by encouraging cooperating teachers to allow preservice and student teachers to experience the “behind the desk” tasks, they can receive a fuller picture of what teaching requires.  While inservice teachers cannot share student information, they can provide blank examples of paperwork to walk preservice and student teachers through as well as share their organizational strategies for keeping the program running smoothly.  By helping cooperating teachers focus on the gaps, preservice and student teachers will also be directed toward experiencing classroom management skills and applying their content and pedagogical knowledge appropriately.  In programs where preservice and inservice teachers are provided a variety of field experiences and placements, they will be exposed to several different methods of how teachers accomplish these tasks.  They will also be exposed to several different inservice teachers and how they exhibit soft skills with stakeholders.  

            If a goal of music teacher education programs is to prepare students as fully as possible to be successful inservice music educators, we must find the gaps in content and pedagogical knowledge and attempt to close those gaps.  Current literature indicates that administrative and organizational skills, classroom management skills, practical application, and soft skills are areas where preservice and student teachers are lacking knowledge and experience.  We can address these areas by adding a courses or content to existing curriculum, utilizing CNAfME meetings, online modules to supplement existing courses, and leveraging cooperating teachers to focus on these areas.  The more prepared preservice and student teachers are, the better chance they stand at not only succeeding early in their career, but also staying in that career for a longer time.  



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