This study aimed to explore the occupational identities of early-career music teachers. Specifically, the project investigated how the occupational identities of two Chinese music teachers were influenced and shaped by pedagogical content knowledge and skills, professional knowledge and skills, self-knowledge, performer/teacher identities, and school context. Previous literature suggests that early-career teachers usually face inconsistencies between their expectations of what music teachers are and what they do, and the reality of how they are to survive and function in their workplaces (Ballantyne, 2007a; Cook, 2009; Kagan, 1992; Perkins & Triantafyllaki, 2013; Wagoner, 2011). Those who fail to adjust their expectations to the real teaching environment may experience frustrations or drop out of the teaching occupation. An effective way to secure teachers’ commitments to their occupation and ensure success in the field is to develop a functional and productive teacher identity (Akkerman & Meijer, 2011; Ballantyne, 2005; Ballantyne, Kerchner, & Arostegui, 2012; Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009; Britzman, 2003; Hoban, 2007; Scheib et al., 2007), as identity can shape the teacher’s disposition, professional expectations, and occupational obligations (Hammerness, 2005). Negotiation between idealised and realised identities can be especially difficult for music teachers (Ballantyne, 2007a) because they also face the challenge of inadequate resources, multiple responsibilities, high workload, professional isolation, and a low level of music perception in school communities (Wagoner, 2011).
Despite a wide acceptance of this notion, the development of music teachers’ occupational identities may receive little attention in their early teaching years (Ballantyne, 2007a; Wagoner, 2011). My motivation for embarking on this study rests with a desire to understand the ways in which self-knowledge influences early-career music teachers’ level of commitment to being a music teacher. Specifically through an explanation from the basic psychological needs perspective, I sought to find out why music teachers exhibit varying thoughts and behaviours when they face similar challenges and difficulties in the pedagogical, professional and school context. Using the methodological approach of case studies, data were gathered by interviewing the two teacher participants, their mentors and colleagues. These data were then constructed into case descriptions of each teacher within their school context.
The findings of this study suggest that occupational identities of Chinese early-career music teachers can include musician, performer and music teacher. The distinctions between the idealised and realised lives of music teachers are mainly influenced by having to undertake tasks outside their professional areas, difficulties in effective teaching, classroom management and student discipline, and low salaries and status within the school. Importantly, the study found that fulfilling the psychological needs of relatedness, competency and autonomy at work are beneficial for early-career music teachers in maintaining confidence and knowledge. Fulfilling these needs enables them to reconstruct an appropriate music teacher identity, allowing them to function in their workplace. Another significant outcome of the research found that early-career music teachers who have more intrinsic motivations than extrinsic motivations at work will more readily accept the realised school context and develop a positive attitude towards teaching.
The last finding of the study is that early-career music teachers are not equally influenced or shaped by pedagogical content knowledge and skills, professional knowledge and skills, self-knowledge, performer/teacher identities, and school context. The case studies in this thesis revealed that self-knowledge and performer/teacher identities are the two most important themes; they are mutually constitutive, dually influencing, and are shaped by the other three themes (pedagogical content knowledge and skills, professional knowledge and skills, and school context). This finding reinforces the need for pre-service and in-service music teachers to critically reflect upon how their occupational identities are shaped by their basic psychological needs and work motivation. Such reflection could enable early-career music teachers to negotiate their idealised teacher identities with their realised teacher identities, assisting them to adapt to their working lives and increase their effectiveness as professionals.