Research Spotlight: Julia McCallum, Music Education

Julia McCallum

April 7, 2014—Julia McCallum, a doctoral student in music education with an emphasis in elementary general music, tells us a bit about her ongoing research.

What basic question(s) does your research seek to answer?

I'm interested in learning what makes someone an effective music educator. How do music education students move from thinking like a student to thinking like a teacher? Are there parts of their teacher education program that can help them to build their identity as a teacher?

I'm also interested in music education students' perceptions of their preparedness for various aspects of teaching. When they begin their first year of teaching, do they feel prepared to deal with behavior issues or manage their time effectively? Are they prepared to be effective advocates for music and other arts in their schools and communities?

What makes your work interesting?

I spend a lot of time mentoring new teachers and working with student teachers. It's interesting to me to help them discover their strengths and build on them, while helping teachers develop strategies for improving their weaknesses. I enjoy watching someone become an effective teacher, to figure out what works for them, and to witness that moment when they realize that they've actually contributed to a student's education.

There are so many facets of a music teacher education program that contribute to a new teacher's success: the relationship with the mentor teacher, the amount of teaching experience provided in the teacher education program, relationships with music education faculty and other music teachers in the community, and the student's own level of musicianship. Whenever we can improve these individual items, new teachers benefit and, in turn, their students benefit as well.

What are you currently working on?

I just had an article published that analyzed current research into the development of teacher identity. There are many things that music education faculty and mentor teachers can do to assist music education students in developing this teacher identity, and even small things can have a big impact.

My next project will focus on music education students' perceptions of their preparedness for various aspects of teaching, before and after their student teaching experiences. Even with multiple opportunities for peer teaching and classroom instruction, there are some things that don't become obvious until a teacher is in a real classroom with real students. Getting feedback from student teachers is important to ensuring we provide them with the most useful opportunities for their professional development.

What is the role of music teacher education in our society?

While the current social and political climate puts a great deal of pressure on all public school teachers, and arts programs are particularly vulnerable, I think it's a wonderful time to be involved in music education. We know so much more about how students learn than we did just a few years ago, and technology has made available to students so many more resources and opportunities.

When I think of how much has changed in music education from when I was a new teacher, from advancements in technology to the growth of non-traditional ensembles, it's truly amazing. It's also easier for new teachers to connect with veteran teachers to get advice and support—and for veteran teachers to keep in touch with new developments in the field.