Garvis, S. and Pendergast, D. (2010). Middle years teachers’ past experiences of the arts: Implications for teacher education. Australian Journal of Music Education, 2, 28-40.


In grades four to nine (considered middle grades in Australia), it is common practice for generalist teachers to deliver integrated arts education. This study examines generalist middle grades Queensland teachers’ art experiences at seven points within their lifetime from childhood through their first three years of teaching. The researchers examine the relationship of teachers’ past experience with arts education to their self-efficacy. The results indicate that the cohort of respondents reported profoundly divergent past experiences with the arts over the life stages selected, ranging from a predominance of positive experiences during childhood, to predominantly negative experiences during pre-service teacher education and in the early months of teaching. The relationship between past experiences and the formation of teacher efficacy beliefs is outlined, and implications for teacher education shared.

Key Findings:

Beginning generalist teachers reported more negative past experiences of the arts at the survey points of interest in the study than positive experiences, including their current experience as a beginning teacher.

  • Childhood was viewed as a positive time for the arts for most of the beginning teachers; however, the teenage years appeared negative for the majority of respondents because of teacher criticism, negative school culture towards the arts, and competing subjects. A general shift was evident from enjoying the arts to studying the arts during these teenage years.
  • During teacher education, some respondents reported that learning objectives in the arts courses were inappropriate, lecturers and tutors were critical, and there was a perception of competing demands between the arts, and English and mathematics. Some beginning teachers did not study arts as part of their pre-service teacher education. While completing their professional practical experience, the majority of respondents reported being exposed to schools that did not value the arts, instead placing greater emphasis on other academic subjects.
  • During beginning months of teaching, respondents were again exposed to a negative school culture towards the arts, with little support in their teaching.
  • The results of this study also reveal differences between personal enjoyment of the arts and professional enjoyment of the arts. When beginning teachers were young adults the majority reported enjoying arts experiences compared to a lack of enjoyment in the arts in their current teaching. These results highlight the well-documented gap between arts activities undertaken outside of school and arts education in schools. While past experiences influenced a teacher’s self-efficacy, school culture played an equally important role in providing or inhibiting support of the arts in education.

Significance of the Findings:

If generalist teachers have relatively negative experiences around art, especially in their pre-service and in-service years, this is likely to translate into less effective implementation of arts instruction in their classrooms. Pre-service and beginning teachers need exposure to positive arts experiences to increase their efficacy in the area of arts.


Researchers recruited 201 middle grade (fourth to ninth grade in Australia) generalist teachers in their first three years of teaching to participate in the study. Participants (i.e., beginning teachers) were mailed a questionnaire containing open-ended questions that asked about their art experiences in seven stages of their past experience as well as their current life stage. Past stages included: 1) childhood, 2) teenager, 3) young adult, 4) pre-service teacher education–education related courses, 5) pre-service teacher education–practical experiences, 6) within the first months of teaching, and 7) within their first three years of teaching. Responses were rated positively or negatively and the authors used content analysis to analyze data.

Limitations of the Research:

There is not an indication of how representative the group of study participants is of middle grades teachers in Queensland, Australia, as there was not a purposive sampling approach.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Could in-service training for the arts for beginning generalist teachers improve their self-efficacy? To what extent would other school support for the arts be helpful for new teachers? What is the best way to overcome negative past arts experiences, and create new positive ones?