Previous researchers documented that music teachers negotiate their identities throughout their career, but none of these studies examined identity negotiation from the perspective of both music teachers and their students. Assuming that music teachers and students negotiate their identities through the same interactions, how do music teachers and students together shape their social context and continually pursue possibilities for who they are becoming? I conducted an instrumental case study to explore the encounters of one veteran orchestra teacher—Steve—with three of his students to understand how they negotiated their identities together and pursued possibilities for who they were becoming. I used strong structuration theory (Stones, 2005) as a theoretical lens to organize and frame my study.
Each time Steve assessed students and placed them within the orchestra’s seating hierarchy, he experienced a tension in his identity as a music teacher. To relieve this tension, Steve changed the orchestra seating structure from a hierarchical-ranked structure to a randomized-rotating structure. This allowed him to provide individualized feedback to students as they rotated into the front row without issuing social sanctions. But this structural change also disrupted some of the students’ identities as musicians and the labels they used to position themselves in orchestra. Steve’s insistence that the student sitting in first-chair was the “leader for the day” continued an element of the hierarchical seating that conflicted with the students’ understandings of meritocracy and leadership. Additionally, by decoupling the students’ seating from the playing tests, Steve delegitimized his primary form of assessment. Based on my findings, I discuss implications for music education practice, and music teacher education.