Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]

Listening to the 'voice' of beginning music teachers: An opportunity for empowerment

Belinda Yourn
School of Music
University of Western Australia
    The project was designed to explore the specific and unique insights that beginning music teachers provide of their experience of becoming teachers. This paper is a report of part of the findings of a larger research project. Giving beginning music teachers voice a substantial place in the research utilises and encourages their capacity for self-reflection within the unique and complex experience that each participant has of teaching. The beginning music teachers participated in semi-structured interviews, completed journals, video taped lessons and attended a focus groups and discussions. The stories and anecdotes of the beginning music teachers provides an opportunity to explore the very real concerns that each have regarding the process of thinking about and learning of/how to teach. This in turn has a significant impact on the personal and professional development of the beginning music teacher and the researcher. An implication of the research was that the pre-service music teacher education program should consider how to best meet the needs and concerns of the beginning music teachers as this may lead to less anxious student teachers and professional growth as music teachers. Further, that there is an opportunity to explore alongside beginning music teachers in a collaborative and meaningful way, strategies to encourage and promote continuing self-reflection as an essential element of their learning how to be effective music teachers.
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The overarching purpose of the music education degree at the University of Western Australia is to prepare students to become competent music specialists operating within a multi-arts, interdisciplinary and outcomes-based framework. The intention of the course is to provide students with a knowledge of appropriate materials, teaching strategies and organisational skills necessary to become successful music educators. The practicum is an essential component of the course and 44 days of school placement are mandatory.

The practicum

The student music teachers find the practicum rewarding although a challenging aspect of the course. They have indicated informally that it is probably the most useful aspect of their university studies. This is not surprising and previous studies support this perception. Hodkinson & Hodkinson (1999) state that students believe the time spent on practicum is intended for 'learning how to teach' rather than 'learning in order to teach' (p.274). Borthwick (1989) indicates that while the practicum is often viewed as the pivotal point for teacher development that it does not always allow beginning teachers the opportunity to experiment. The opportunity to be reflective, to grow and change is lost (Zeichner 1983). Yet Ferguson (1989) indicates that a structured practicum experience that goes beyond promoting the 'trial and error' approach to teaching can help beginning teachers take a more reflective approach to their learning of teaching.

The program

As the supervisor of the practicum component of the music education course I have noticed that the student teachers are initially anxious about their practicum. They are worried about a range of issues that include classroom management, whether the students and teachers will like them and if they will have enough materials. As the 1st practicum arrived and passed I was concerned that the student teachers were too focussed on themselves and how they were going to cope rather than seizing on the opportunity to reflect upon the 'bigger picture' of what teaching and learning means. It was also disappointing to watch and hear the new teachers making decisions about their practice in a very superficial way. After reading Fuller (1969) and Fuller & Boun (1975) I decided to implement a suitable 'procedure' in order to address the concerns that the music teachers had about themselves and hopefully encourage some consideration of the 'bigger picture'.

As both the researcher and supervisor I aimed to provide opportunities for the student music teachers to discuss and analyse their experiences. The researcher sought to create a space within the course whereby the beginning teachers could develop reflective processes and locate their 'voice'. It was intended and hoped that a further implication of the research process would be that of a reciprocally educative encounter between what would more commonly be perceived as the researcher and the researched (Lather, 1988).

The program sought to achieve several aims:

  1. Firstly, to encourage the beginning music teachers to explore and confront their concerns that occurred during their practicum experience

  2. To place value on the voice of beginning teachers and the empowering quality that this has in relation to beginner teachers professional development

  3. The researcher and students to explore in a collaboratively and meaningful way reflective practice

Explanation of terms


Jensen, Foster & Eddy (1997) argue that opportunities should be made for novice teachers to locate their voices. The possibilities for teaching and learning become more transparent when beginning teachers reflect upon their teaching. Further that by writing and discussing stories of classroom experience students can increase their awareness - they can achieve multiple perspectives and understandings. Craig (1999) states that when people narrate and negotiate meaning of their experience that the stories become authorised tellings. When teachers are able to tell their own stories in their own voice they can begin to analyse and redefine from their own perspectives and the capacity for real change becomes possible.

Rust (1999) describes teachers stories as their lived experience intersecting with their real experience and that this impacts in a significant way upon their subsequent future as teachers. Black (1992) points out the potential of narratives as a way of questioning and redefining practice from the teachers own perspective and this becomes an empowering experience. Simon (1987) draws attention to the opportunity that beginning teachers have to participate on equal terms. Fried (1980) reveals that empowerment through reflection is more about the 'mutual sharing of ideas, intuitions and experiences (p.30)'. Gitlin (1990) stresses that when the student teachers' voice is heard it provides scope for developing identity within the context.

Diamond (1990) and Lather (1988, 1992) both refer to the possible benefits for both the researched and researcher. The acknowledgment that beginning teachers' personal and professional knowledge is important becomes central to the reflective process for both. Smyth (1989) observes that by allowing novice teachers to create pesonalised narratives that it guards against outsiders providing packaged answers for problems.

Providing opportunities for the beginning teachers to find their voice will be essential to this project. It is hoped that they will define , analyse and reconstruct their experiences from their own perspectives and possibly achieve significant understanding of the teaching and learning process.


Armaline & Hoover (1989) inform of the empowering capacity of reflection through shared experiences. Moreover, Simon (1987) reveals that 'Speaking one's own voice to tell one's own story' enables a host of opportunities (p.30). Further, that it is empowering for those usually silenced - in this project beginning teachers- to have the opportunity to participate on equal terms their experience of teaching. Gitlin (1990) suggests that identity and empowerment will be the result of enabling the 'voice' to be heard.

The intersection of teachers' personal and professional knowledge provides an opportunity for what Craig (1999) refers to as safe places where teachers can establish raw dialogues regarding their experiences and understanding of teaching. The safe place of this project is defined as the place where the participating student music teachers have no fear of their confidences and reflections affecting for example their grades. It is hoped that negotiating meaning from ones own and others stories will contribute to their professional growth beyond the mere sharing of experiences. Essentially, beginning teachers can begin to chart their own professional growth and teacher educators can begin to understand the concerns of beginning teachers from a different perspective (Grumet, 1988.,Clandinin 1996., Bullough, 1991).

Empowerment is therefore defined for this project as the student teacher gaining confidence through reflecting on their experiences.


According to Fuller (1969) in her study of beginning teachers concerns three sequential stages of development are proposed. Johnson (1997) describes this as "conceptualising teaching as the progressive acquisition of stages..." (p. 817) and is further detailed in the work of researchers Tardif (1985); Feiman-Nemser (1983) and Zahorik (1986).

Fuller & Boun (1975) describe the first stage as being more about survival and indicative of student teachers or beginning teachers. In the Fuller (1969) study the data revealed that beginning teachers have (a) concern with self, (b) concern with teaching and (c) concern with pupils. During the survival stage beginning teachers are concerned mostly about their:

"adequacy and survival as a teacher, about class control, about being liked by pupils, about supervisors' opinions, about being observed, evaluated, praised and failed". That they were also worried "about having to much work with too many students or having too many instructional duties, about time pressures, about inflexible situations, lack of instructional materials, and so on" (Fuller and Boun p.37).
Fuller & Boun (1975) conclude their study with several recommendations that include the development of 'procedures' to encourage the beginning teacher to confront their concerns. In this project the introduction of a reflective process will be defined as such a 'procedure'. It is hoped that this will enable the beginning teacher to become less concerned with the issues of survival and be more focussed on student needs. In this project the beginning music teacher is provided with the opportunity to analyse from a multiple of perspectives their teaching . They are encouraged to be reflective and to attend to the discrepancies that occur in their teaching through their own experiences of teaching and the perspectives of others of their teaching.

As the supervisor and researcher I felt that if some form of reflective process was introduced to address the concerns of the student teachers that they would find their voice, become empowered and achieve professional growth.

Project design

Johnson (1997) states that teacher education research is moving away from examining teacher behaviour and more towards understanding teacher thinking. This has changed the way in which data is collected. It means that teacher talk, teacher writing and teacher perceptions become important data. Data for this study was collected in a variety of settings through interviews, focus groups, questionnaires and journals. Johnson declares that this allows for "...teachers' work to be examined differently: not with the hope of finding, unified individual stories based on feelings, intentions and values, or a common pattern of development from novice to expert (p 827)".

The project design cannot lay claim to impartiality as the researcher is an inscribed participant. Lather (1992) and Teitelbaum and Britzman (1991) say that the research paradigm that is described formerly is more concerned with description and interpretation rather than with prediction and measurement. This project was as much about the perspectives of the student teachers as it was an investigation to inform course structures for the researcher.

The participants

The participants of the study included 9 student music teachers in their first year of music education studies and the university supervisor (researcher) of the students. The students were invited and volunteered to take part in the study. Data was drawn from interviews, focus groups, observation, video and journal writing. Due to the enormous amount of data produced the discussion that follows will attempt to make sense of the opportunity provided to the student teachers and the implications for the course. To encourage students to participate they were offered exemption from a piece of assessed work within the course. It was thought that this would ensure that the journals, interviews and focus groups were viewed by both the beginning teacher the supervisor (researcher) as significant and important.


A multiple of perspectives was sought and data was collected from the student teachers, mentor teachers and from the supervisor(researcher). The student teachers were required to maintain a journal during both of the intensive practicum periods. The first practicum journal entries included personal and professional entries and had no specific or prescriptive design. The second practicum journal entries were more structured. The student teachers attended three focus groups which were taped for transcription and were required to video tape three lessons whilst on their first practicum. The student teachers wrote 'buddy reflections' based on the video lessons incorporating the perspectives of their peers . Mentor teachers were invited to write a three paragraph statement regarding significant episodes in which the student teacher was involved and how they managed these.

This study provided opportunities for beginning teachers to reflect upon their experiences to develop an understanding of their teaching. It was an aim of the study to encourage the 'voice' of beginning teachers as a valued and empowering aspect of their professional growth. An unexpected result was that the beginning music teachers remained enthusiastic during the project. I believe that they particularly enjoyed the discussions and individual support and as a consequence invested much of themselves in the project. The group has developed a high level of trust and their 'voice' is confident in this safe place.

It was satisfying to observe that the structured reflective process did enable the beginning music teachers to go beyond the 'trial and error' approach to teaching (Ferguson 1989). However, some students remained firmly within the identifiable 'survival' stage and were more concerned with 'technical competence' ( Calderhead 1989, Campbell-Evans & Maloney 1998). The student teachers demonstrated that there is potential for the reflective process to affect personal change especially when the process is owned and hence significant to the participants. Although there were many instances of struggle and frustration they in the end became the significant events that required the student teacher to analyse, interpret and reconstruct.

I believe that the students developed at varied levels responsibility for their actions as beginning music teachers. Some have developed the skill to be critical of themselves and their teaching. There is merit in allowing beginning music teachers the opportunity to reflect in a meaningful way upon their own experiences. Further that there were moments when the beginning music teachers demonstrated their empowerment in the reflective process. Empowering the beginning music teacher through the development of 'voice' has with this group of students been an effective way to encourage professional growth whilst managing the practicum requirement.

As a teacher educator this has been a reciprocal learning experience that will have impact on my own practice. I have found that to encourage a deeper level of interpretation and professional growth that the beginning music teachers require supported and structured experiences. I also found that I cannot take for granted that the beginning music teachers will all become insightful and critical of their practice given the opportunity to be so. An implication of this project has been that initial support is required before the student teacher can feel confident to take full responsibility for their actions. There is opportunity for more consideration to be given to how the practicum experience is managed and possibly how the theory can support this prior to the students' entering the school setting..

Through reflective processes, such as were used in this project, the concerns of the student teachers did move towards the 'bigger picture' of becoming an educator. Through the analysis of their own experiences they found their voice and subsequently were empowered. Ultimately each student teacher started to chart their own professional growth as new educators. As the supervisor and researcher my own investigation has revealed that the anxiety of beginning teachers can be addressed with careful consideration given to the concerns that the student teachers have. Consideration will be given to promoting self-reflection as a strategy for encouraging professional growth and effective music teachers.


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Please cite as: Yourn, B. (2000). Listening to the 'voice' of beginning music teachers: An opportunity for empowerment. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/yourn.html

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