From Barriers to Bridges of Understanding: A Case Study of Sociocultural Dissonances between an Urban Middle School Band Teacher and Immigrant Students

Amy Jane Martinson, University of Colorado Boulder


While some research on urban instrumental teaching exists, this research fails to provide information on the impact of different band teacher and immigrant students' sociocultural backgrounds on teacher and student experiences. The purpose of this research was to describe the dissonances, barriers, and understandings that arose in an urban middle school band as a result of differences between the teacher and selected students' sociocultural backgrounds. Research questions included:

  1. How did the teacher's white middle class background match and/or clash with second-generation immigrant students' backgrounds?
  2. What impact did different teacher and selected students' socioeconomic and sociocultural backgrounds have on music learning and music experiences in a middle school band?
  3. What strategies and structures did the teacher attempt to implement in response to different teacher and student sociocultural backgrounds?

This study took place in a large urban school district during the 2009-2010 school year. Five immigrant middle school band students and the teacher were participants in this intrinsic case study. Data included transcriptions of student and parent interviews, field notes of band rehearsals and concerts, teacher field diaries, and student band journals. Data were initially coded inductively using low-level descriptors (LeCompte & Schensual, 1999) which led to the development of pattern codes and visual displays of themes (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Triangulation of data sources, member checks and negative case analysis strategies were used to improve the trustworthiness of the findings.

Findings suggest differences in the white teacher's and immigrant students' habitus, the amount and types of social and cultural capital each possessed, and the teacher's experience of otherness created dilemmas that led to barriers in band teaching and learning processes. Specifically, barriers in band recruitment and retention, finances and resources, teaching and learning, and family support were identified. Findings also suggest that building positive relationships with students, teacher development of intercultural sensitivity, and the creation of a culturally inclusive classroom environment can increase opportunities for immigrant music students' participation in band while simultaneously supporting positive acculturation processes. However, personal challenges for the teacher and unsuccessful attempts at bridging sociocultural barriers between the teacher and students were also identified.