Identity and Borderland Discourse: Bridging the Personal and the Professional in Music Teacher Identity Research

By Dawe, Nancy | The Canadian Music Educator, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Identity and Borderland Discourse: Bridging the Personal and the Professional in Music Teacher Identity Research


Dawe, Nancy, The Canadian Music Educator


Music teacher identity research: Beginning with myself

I come to this paper with a long-standing interest in understanding "music teacher identity." As I prepared to move into my first school position as a music teacher, I sat in my favourite window at the School of Music and wrote in my journal about the transition I was experiencing-that from student to teacher, "I am very interested in how we come to make decisions about who we will be in our grown-up lives. I am interested in learning about the process we go through to come into our own beings. . ." (Journal entry, May 3, 2001). As I looked out across the parking lot, I thought about how my experiences in the Music building had shaped who I had become at that moment-a brand new music teacher. But then I began to wonder about the experiences I had had outside of the building that had shaped who I had become at that moment. I wanted to know more about the process of "becoming."

As I went through my first year as a teacher the identity questions did not stop. At the time, I was not conscious of the fact that I was making notes about identity issues. As a music teacher responsible for both elementary classroom music and intermediate band, I often felt conflicted about "who" I was in the classroom. While I had spent most of my life preparing to be a band teacher, I quickly realized that I did not like who I was as a band teacher. Instead, I much preferred who I was as an elementary teacher, a role I had never thought I would play in my professional life. Why was I a "good" elementary teacher when it was not something I had ever cared about? Perhaps I was a "good" band teacher, according to the assumptions I had previously held about good music teaching. Perhaps my assumptions had changed, but if this was the case, I wanted to understand why they had changed. This internal conflict was the catalyst for a self-study I later conducted, through which I learned that who I had become as a teacher-as an elementary teacher and as an intermediate teacher-had been shaped by a multitude of diverse experiences both in and outside of my formal music education.

Tensions surrounding my sense of conflicting identities were not limited to tensions about who I was as a music teacher. Other identity conflicts arose as well-troubling to me was how my colleagues would refer to me. I found that many of my elementary teacher colleagues would, when speaking to their students, refer to me as "the music teacher," while my intermediate teacher colleagues would consistently refer to me as "Ms. _____." I felt respected more by the colleagues who chose to call me by name as opposed to by my role. Revisiting my journals and daily planner margin musings from that year, it is clear to me why it is that my major problem with the extant literature on music teacher identity examines only one identity conflict in particular-that of musician versus teacher. Instead, I think we should be more concerned about the whole of who we are as music teachers and how the multiple aspects of identity that we embody interconnect and inform who we are as music teachers and music curriculum planners.

Through this essay, I will provide a brief overview of some of the extant literature on music teacher identity and suggest how the use of borderland discourse (Alsup, 2006) may provide an effective vehicle for exploring music teacher identity from a broader perspective, changing the ways in which music teacher identities are typically constructed within music teacher education programs, and moving the music teacher identity research agenda forward. Alsup defines borderland discourse as "discourse in which disparate personal and professional subjectivities are put into contact toward a point of integration" (2006, p. 205).

Music teacher identity research: Sociological perspective

Researchers who have approached their exploration of music teacher identity from a sociological perspective (Bouij, 1998; Broyles, 1997; Cox, 1994; L'Roy, 1983; Roberts, 1991a, 1991b, 1991c, 1993, 2000; Schonauer, 2002; Wolfgang, 1990) have grounded their work with a symbolic interactionist framework. …

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