A Survey of Music Teachers' Working Conditions

By Sanderson, David N.; Buzza, Timothy D. et al. | Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME), September 2019 | Go to article overview

A Survey of Music Teachers' Working Conditions


Sanderson, David N., Buzza, Timothy D., Jannings, Christopher S., Kim, Kangwon, Maurer, Bryan D., Soderberg-Chase, Jonathan, Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)


Background

What is known about the working conditions of music teachers, and why do working conditions matter? Ladd (2007) suggests that working conditions for teachers include "the physical features of the workplace, the organizational structure, and the sociological, political, psychological, and educational features of the work environment" (p. 237). These conditions can directly impact how teachers view their current jobs and abilities to deliver instruction to students (Buckley, Schneider, and Shang, 2005; Johnson et al., 2005; Ladd, 2007). In some cases, teachers decide to leave schools because they feel they lack skills, resources, and/or supports to meet students' needs (Johnson et al., 2005). Additional factors such as quality of facilities, teacher workload, and school community also impact teachers' career decisions (Buckley, Schneider, and Shang, 2005; Ladd, 2007), which in turn matter because teacher attrition presents a significant concern to the profession. Higher teacher turnover rates have been linked to decreases in student academic achievement and additional financial stress on school districts (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). While teachers' working conditions have been profiled in surveys and annual reports from the National Center for Education Statistics (Choy, 1996), these surveys are designed to sample teachers across all disciplines and may not address issues specific to music teachers.

Music educators and scholars may have good reason to be concerned about the current state of K-12 music teacher working conditions as impacts of recent political and economic factors to music program funding may be placing additional stress on music programs (Burrack et al., 2014; Elpus, 2014; Gerrity, 2009). Due to the decentralized structure of American K-12 schools, ramifications of these elements may have variable impacts on school music programs. As scholars have noted, not all school music programs enjoy equal means of support (Abril & Bannerman, 2015; Major, 2013; Miksza, 2013). Though researchers have often commented on empirical and perceived differences between music programs based on locale and socioeconomic status of the surrounding community, the influence of these demographic facets on the music teacher working conditions has been seldom explored. While some scholars argue that rural music teachers have different experiences than urban teachers (Bates, 2011; Isbell, 2005), there appears to be little empirical evidence that any particular K-12 music teaching situation has generally better or worse working conditions than another. The purpose of this study was to investigate if music teachers' perceptions of working conditions differed based on the demographic characteristics of teachers, their schools, or their teaching assignments.

Review of the Literature

Scholars addressing the working conditions of music teachers suggest that the working lives of music teachers differ from those of teachers of other subjects (Baker, 2007; Conway, 2003; Madsen & Hancock, 2002). For instance, music teachers are more likely to work in multiple buildings and are more likely to be part time (Gardner, 2010). Music teachers are also more likely to be isolated from their peers within a school community (Carter, 2003; Sindberg, 2011; 2013). In addition, duties such as recruiting students, planning concerts and trips, fundraising, and participating in musical competitions may be necessary for music teachers to maintain their programs (Baker, 2007; Conway, 2003). These additional responsibilities may lead music educators to have different priorities for classroom conditions and teacher support than their colleagues in other academic areas.

Music teachers are also often in a precarious position with regard to support from their school administrations. As music is a non-tested subject area, music teachers often find their programs' financial support and instructional time with students reduced to divert resources to "higher-stakes" subject areas (Abril & Gualt, 2008; Elpus & Abril, 2011; Gerrity, 2009; Robinson, 2016). …

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