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Mindful Modulation and the Music Teaching Profession

By Deborah A. Confredo • December 2023NAfME Neighborhood • December 11, 2023

Those of a certain age will remember the Weebles commercial jingle: “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down!” You could poke them, nudge them, push them, hit them – they might stagger or totter but would never fall down. Music teachers are kind of like Weebles. Amid poking and pushing, through times that are rough, we remain tough, committed, and diligent. We are vocal and strong as we remind all about why music teaching and learning are so very important. In our long history as an important part of life in these United States, we may have wobbled on occasion but falling down was never an option. Music education in children’s lives, through individual and group, as well as private and public instruction, in schools and studios across the country, continues to enjoy great support. This is largely due to the dedication and commitment of music teachers who know the value of music education and work tirelessly to keep it alive and relevant.

It seems each generation of educators faces challenges and changes in the profession. Developments may reflect shifts and reordering in society that have an impact on educational programs and systems. Responding to change is one thing. Being the change that comes from within the profession is a whole other story. The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) sees the need to be the change and is working hard in its campaign to create meaningful improvement in our profession. At the heart of this budding movement lies the Music Teacher Profession Initiative (MTPI) which recognized our student population reflects the wonderfully diverse nature of the American people far more than the population who teaches them. Left unaddressed, this disparity will only grow; according to the National Center for Education Statistics, by 2030 the proportion of black and brown students will rise above that of white students while our current complement of school music educators is mostly white and female. Convened in January 2021, the MTPI set out to identify barriers to the music teacher profession, especially for people of color, and how those barriers could be overcome toward the goal of opening the doors to the profession to a larger and more diverse pool of music teachers. Of course, another positive outcome would be not only to increase diversity but to bolster the numbers of music teachers in the profession! In robust conversations with music teacher educators as well as state leaders representing PK–12 teachers from across the country, the MTPI gathered perceptions of barriers to the profession experienced prior to the undergraduate degree program, during the degree program, and in the critically important first five years of professional life as a music teacher. The initiative also sought suggestions from participants that addressed possible ways to mitigate the challenges. 

Discussion participants provided an enormous amount of information. Analysis of conversations showed common ground and emergent ideas. The “Blueprint for Strengthening the Music Teacher Profession” presented results of this project. This comprehensive report distills data received from those who generously gave their time and shared ideas regarding the barriers to the profession and how we might go about addressing them. It is a crucial initial step toward the improvement of music teaching and learning from the early years of life through adulthood. As a first step, the blueprint lays out the issues of today and a host of options for what might be tomorrow—a picture of how goals might be reached. As with many blueprints, it is a place to start, a picture of possibilities, knowing that ongoing calibration will need to take place as we begin laying the foundations toward improvement. With the blueprint as a tool, mindful modulation—moving from one beautiful sound to the next—can happen.

The many obstacles that create systemic barriers against a larger and more diverse community of music teachers reveal the complexity of the task. While the blueprint offers any number of possible mitigation strategies, it is obvious some are quickly attainable and implementable while others will require clear, constant, and commanding commitment (and, in many cases, a good deal of financial support). The complexity of addressing ways to shape music education and the music education profession is seen in the multiplicity of those who have vested interest. Turning this ship mid-journey cannot be accomplished by any one person, one teacher, one administrator, or one well-meaning association. We can begin to move the needle in meaningful ways, however, when folks from all walks of life take an active role. No one should bear the responsibility alone. It must be a team effort. Change that only happens in the elementary schools may not be reflected in secondary schools. Change that occurs only in music teacher preparation programs may not thrive if music education practices outside of the university remain status quo and untouched. 

We want to emphasize and reemphasize that the traditions of music education that have long endured for over 100 years are important to us. WE LOVE OUR LARGE ENSEMBLES!! This sentiment is resoundingly clear in the blueprint. What is also clear is if we continue to have a limited view of meaningful engagement of music, we will continue to keep the path to music, particularly in the secondary schools and music teaching, extremely narrow. The time has come for us to widen our view to include a superabundance of music educators representing a vast diversity in knowledge and backgrounds. This is not a zero-sum game! Creating greater opportunities for more students to see themselves in what we offer in school music is like planting, fertilizing, and watering the seeds. The harvest yield will be far more bountiful with a wider and more diverse array of people who choose to join the ranks of the music teaching profession. Working toward this goal does not diminish us; it amplifies us. It does not snub our traditional ensembles; it places them alongside more opportunities which, in turn, place a brighter spotlight on the good that we bring to all students. Come on, music education Weebles! As we mindfully modulate from where we have been for decades, let’s embrace the new key to open the doors as we invite equity and virtue inside.

NAfME.org

Deborah A. Confredo, is President-Elect, National Association for Music Education

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