We call for changes in the development, preparation, and support of music educators and teaching artists.

The future health of city music ecosystems depends on developing and expanding a pool of teachers who are both capable of and committed to serving diverse city populations, including certified music educators and teaching artists. If we are committed to expanding music opportunities for our city students, we will need to inspire and produce well-equipped teachers.


Preparing Music Educators and Teaching Artists to Be Effective in Urban Settings

Many teachers—both certified music educators and teaching artists—are insufficiently prepared to teach in diverse urban classrooms, and goodwill alone is not enough to make an unprepared teacher successful. Everyone who spends time with city students—whether in- or out-of- school—must be appropriately trained and equipped to serve the diverse needs of their students. All music teachers working in city settings should receive ample training in cultural competence, culturally responsive pedagogy, social-emotional learning, and social justice.

Music educators and teaching artists bring their own sets of cultural expectations, stereotypes, and biases to urban classrooms. If they are not equipped to teach, work, and communicate in a diverse urban setting, they will find their experiences more arduous and less effective. Cultural competence is “having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families.”¹ It allows teachers to communicate effectively and respectfully across cultures and to recognize and celebrate differences among their students. Cultural competence is particularly important when teaching music because music itself is a carrier of culture, and teachers who teach music in urban settings must develop a thorough knowledge of their own cultural identities, biases, and expectations so that they can respectfully and effectively engage their students.



The Music Educator Lifecycle: Who Becomes a Music Educator and Why?

The reality is that, nationally, today’s music teachers do not statistically reflect the diversity of their students: while 50 percent of U.S. students are non-white, only around 10 percent of music educators are teachers of color.² The lack of proportional diversity between teachers and students is certainly not unique to music education, but it is particularly pertinent since music education is not culturally neutral: simply put, it matters who teaches music.

The field of music education is a lifecycle in which current music educators prepare and inspire students to become future music educators. In its most ideal form, high school students choose to pursue careers in music education because they have had music teachers who impacted their lives, who provided them solid training in music, and whom they desire to emulate. These students enter music education programs at institutions of higher education, where they receive quality pre-service training as musicians and educators. They then progress to the classroom, where their quality instruction inspires and prepares some of their own students to become music educators, and so the cycle continues.

This lifecycle often works—and works well—in creating new and committed music teachers. If the process breaks down at any of its stages, however, it can adversely impact who has access to becoming a music educator.

Emulation, Aspiration, and Preparation

Many city music students—particularly those who are students of color or from low socioeconomic backgrounds— lack music educator role models with whom they share similar characteristics. Studies outside of music education have demonstrated the importance of same-race role models for children.³ These studies suggest that students of color may be more likely to aspire to become music educators if they have been taught or mentored by a teacher of color. The current lifecycle patterns of aspiration and emulation perpetuate a lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity among music educators: because a majority of music educators are white and from middle- and upper-class suburban backgrounds, the students who emulate them are, as well. We must increase the diversity among music educators in order to provide role models that reflect the student demographics of city schools. This means more teachers of color, teachers from Latino back- grounds, teachers who have experienced immigration, and teachers from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Diversifying the educator workforce may be most broadly achieved by increasing the diversity of students seeking degrees in music education programs. This may appear to be an obvious solution, but it will be a key strategy in meeting the needs of the twenty-first-century music classroom. Teacher diversity may also be increased by providing rigorous alternative certification routes for those who may have been unable to study music education in a degree program. The goal—however it is met—is to welcome more teachers of color and of diverse backgrounds into the classroom to inspire and mentor students who identify with them. Additionally, music educators who are not racially, ethnically, or socioeconomically similar to their students can also make conscious efforts to cultivate aspiration in their students—for example, connecting aspiring music educators with mentors, studying accomplished non-white musicians, or performing a broad range of genres.

But aspiration alone is not sufficient; students who aspire to become music educators may not have access to the opportunities necessary for application and admittance to music education degree programs. Under-resourced students in city schools may find that the supplementary music activities that many colleges expect of applicants—such as private lessons, summer intensives, or regional chamber ensembles—are financially prohibitive for them.

Aspirational students may be connected with community partners who can enrich students’ musical development. Community partnerships can be of great assistance in providing the kind of supplementary activities that city students do not receive at school and which they may not be able to afford. Local musicians might provide one-on-one instruction and personal mentorship that a music educator simply cannot provide in a classroom setting. Partnerships might also provide aspiring music educators with guidance during college admissions and music audition processes. This kind of support has been shown to be successful in general college admissions processes and could be highly effective in helping underserved students navigate the complicated and intimidating admissions and audition process.

However, the current requirements and processes for admission into music education degree programs often exclude students who demonstrate potential outside of standard admissions requirements.⁴ Many schools require music education applicants to audition on a single instrument, most often in Western “classical” genres. Students who demonstrate the potential to be gifted music educators, but who cannot audition under traditional parameters, are often ineligible for admission into music education degree programs. Students who do not play a “conventional” instrument, who are proficient in genres outside of the Western “classical” canon, or who may not fluently read/write Western music notation, are thus barred from entering many music education programs, even if they demonstrate the potential to be a skilled and inspiring music educator.

If we are committed to diversity among music educators, the schools that offer music education degree programs will need to reimagine the criteria by which students are admitted. Music education admissions criteria may be broadened to include traditions outside of the performance of Western “classical” music, including expanding the range of instruments on and the genres in which students can audition. As the field of music broadens to include more genres, sounds, and performance styles, music education programs should follow suit, affirming that being a music educator is far less about being an adept performer of the Western “classical” canon and far more about teaching and inspiring students to make music.

Adjusting patterns in the lifecycle will require substantial intervention at each stage. Progress will not be immediate, but sustained effort can result in measurable improvement over time.


RESOURCES → music educator lifecycle


¹ National Education Association, “Why Cultural Competence? To Help Educators Close Achievement Gaps

² For an overview of demographics of pre-service and in-service music educators, see: Kenneth Elpus, “Music Teacher Licensure Candidates in the United States: A Demographic Profile and Analysis of Licensure Examination Scores,” Journal of Research in Music Education 63, no. 3 (2015): 314–335.

³ See, for example: Sabrina Zirkel, “Is There a Place for Me? Role Models and Academic Identity among White Students and Students of Color,” Teachers College Record 104, no. 2 (2002): 357-376.

⁴ For a discussion of barriers to admission, see: Kate R. Fitzpatrick, Jacqueline C. Henninger, and Don M. Taylor, “Access and Retention of Marginalized Populations Within Undergraduate Music Education Degree Programs,” Journal for Research in Music Education 62, no. 2 (2014): 105-127.