Teaching Future Educators

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

When music professor Hunter March became COFA's Associate Dean for Arts Education in 2009, the dean asked him to unite the various teacher-training programs in the college to create a premier teacher education initiative. The state's flagship university should be graduating the highest quality arts education teachers for the Texas school systems.

March's first task was to break down the silos separating each arts discipline. He gathered faculty first, then students, to talk about mutual needs and interests. Whether in music, theatre, dance or the visual arts, March saw common struggles and began addressing curricular and financial issues vital to the quality and growth of the college's teacher training programs.

March is pleased with the progress toward a more united approach to shared challenges such as more efficient degree programs that allow undergraduates to graduate in four years, instead of the traditional five years.

He also tackled the financial obstacles of placing student teachers in public schools outside of Central Texas for their required semester of on-the-job training.

"For years, our UT students did their teaching internships near Austin," March said. "Yet, this didn't properly prepare them for work in communities outside of Central Texas or for working at rural schools or in large, inner-city school districts. We were missing out on an important element of their training."

With help from private donations, he began a pilot program in McAllen, Texas. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and March resolved to expand the program.

"There is no academic substitute for the day-to-day experience of living and working with students from various parts of the state, in schools with varying resources, cultures and attitudes towards the arts," he said. "Not all of our graduates will find jobs in middle-class suburban school districts with all the amenities."

Funding these types of student internships remains a priority, as does funding for student scholarships to eliminate student loan debts. Even though graduates of the COFA teacher training programs have a 100-percent job placement rate for those students seeking positions, starting a new job with college loan debts is a burden for many young teachers. March hopes to help more undergraduates attend college without student loans.

Dr. David O. Nilsson and Joseph Dailey, Theatre Studies student, at the 2012 Scholarship Luncheon. Photo by Sandy CarsonThere are a handful of scholarships designated specifically for teacher training majors. These include, among others, the Murray Endowed Scholarship in Theatre Studies, the Nelson G. Patrick Endowed Scholarship in Music Education and the David O. Nilsson Excellence Fund for Fine Arts Education.

The Nilsson endowment is the most recent and funds three to four students annually. The donor, Dr. David O. Nilsson, is a retired UT math professor who understands well the challenges facing today's students. He feels strongly about helping young people reach their academic goals.

"For some of these students, receiving a scholarship makes the difference between being able to afford a college education or not," said Nilsson. "I get great personal satisfaction from helping these Fine Arts students. I enjoy getting to know them, and I take pride in learning about their achievements. Their successes feel like my own."

Investing in the education of future arts teachers reaps an ever-growing return. Each teacher who graduates from the College of Fine Arts can be expected to touch the lives of thousands of K-12 students during his or her career.

"Supporting arts teachers ensures future generations of Texas students will have access to an arts education that fosters innovation, creativity and ideas," said March. "Not a bad return on investment."

 —Sondra Lomax

For more information on supporting COFA, contact Sondra Lomax, Executive Director for Development. Please email lomax@austin.utexas.edu or call 512.471.6468.