Students Share School, Teaching Experiences Through UTeach Program

Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Kids at a KIPP school

Students at KIPP Elementary charter school in Austin. The school works in tandem with UTeach Fine Arts to provide student-teaching opportunities for Theatre Studies seniors seeking teaching certification. Photo by Lawrence Peart

Student teaching is the culminating field experience practicum for our UTeach Fine Arts students. Although placements vary by discipline, they are required across all UTeach Fine Arts programs: Art, Dance, Music and Theatre.

In our UTeach Theatre program, students complete two eight-week appointments in either elementary, middle or secondary classrooms, which serve as their coursework for their final semester. They begin by observing the classroom and the teacher’s methods, and by the end are crafting their own lessons and leading the classrooms. UTeach Fine Arts is committed to nurturing relationships with these collaborating schools and the highly skilled fine arts teachers who serve as mentors and guides for our students.

In 2010, the Fine Arts Student Teaching Travel (FASTT) grant was created to encourage UTeach students to practice teaching in Title 1 schools and districts outside Austin in the hopes of guiding more quality fine arts teachers to lower-income schools. We sat down with two UTeach Theatre students and FASTT recipients Hannah Winkler and Wyatt Kaiser to talk about their time at UT and their student teaching experiences.

Wyatt Kaiser

Wyatt is a first-generation, class of 2019 UTeach Theatre Studies student from Yokum, Texas. Wyatt completed his student teaching assignments at Gonzales Junior High and High Schools as well as Cedar Park Middle School. He hopes to teach middle school theatre after graduation.

When did you first get involved with theatre?

I really fell in love with theatre in middle school. My eighth grade year was the first time they offered theatre class, so we were the guinea pigs of sorts. It gave me a taste of theatre and what theatre could be.

When I got to high school, I fell in love with theatre even more and was doing four productions per year. What I remember most about the teachers that I loved is that they gave us agency to explore different things, and that’s really where I fell in love with the idea of teaching. Every summer during high school I worked at community theatres in other towns, too, where I got to work with adults and different directors, so I was constantly meeting new styles of directing and genres of shows.

What was your experience in the UTeach program?

We’re basically learning every aspect of theatre. I know how to design a set now because I took a set design class, I understand how to read ground plans and teach my students how to do that. We’re taking acting and directing classes, and learning different studies and methods. UT gives us as much opportunity to work with students as possible. Our junior year we’re working with elementary students and giving class lessons in Title 1 schools as well as affluent schools, so we’re getting to see that spectrum before we even get into student teaching. I felt so prepared when I got to student teaching, and got to work with an amazing teacher at Gonzales. She likes the phrase “bulldoze the students with love” so they know that it’s ok to be in this space, it’s ok to explore theatre.

Wyatt Kaiser leading an exercise in theatre class

Theatre studies major and student teacher Wyatt Kaiser leads the “People, Shelter, Storm” exercise at Gonzales Junior High School. Photo courtesy Wyatt Kaiser

Do you have a favorite teaching moment?

I have two that come to mind. I remember I worked with a student who had a really bad home life, and he would sleep in most of his classes. Those words “bulldoze them with love” stuck with me. We were doing a quilt project where students got a piece of fabric and were learning hand sewing and embroidery skills and creating a design on these quilt squares that reflect them, who they are. The student said, “I don’t know what to put on here, Mr. Kaiser.” And I said, “Well, what do you like? Anything from your childhood?” And we had this whole conversation about his childhood, his thing was that he really liked SpongeBob because he used to remember watching it with his mom and sisters. I saw a shift in him, instead of falling asleep or not wanting to listen, he was interested in participating now because it meant something to have himself reflected on this quilt that will be in this classroom now.

The other was working with a student who had recently moved from Greece. He was very shy, he didn’t want to talk. So, we were really working with him to get him out of his shell and be more comfortable on stage. I got to watch him grow from not wanting to have anything to do with the stage to being on stage, saying one line, and watching the entire class stand up, applaud and chant his name. It’s the community this teacher had created, applauding successes and being a good audience. The biggest thing with teaching theatre is empathy, sympathy and being an all-around good human.

Wyatt Kaiser and his eighth grade students

Wyatt Kaiser and the cast of eighth grade students for the production “The Yellow Boat,” directed by Wyatt. Photo courtesy Wyatt Kaiser

Hannah Winkler

Hannah Winkler is a class of 2019 UTeach Theatre Studies student from Austin, Texas. Hannah completed her student teaching assignments at Lewisville High School and Pflugerville Middle School, and hopes to teach high school theatre after graduation.

When did you first get involved with theatre?

I started when I was 10. At first I refused to do theatre in school. I thought, “This is awful, I don’t want to be on stage and in front of people.” I was so shy. But then I found out my best friend in fifth grade was going to move away, so when she signed up for a week-long theatre camp I thought, “Ok this is the last thing I can do with her.” A few days in, I was acting grumpy because I was Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast, and the director said “Are you ok, Hannah?” I guess they thought something was wrong. I said, “Oh, I’m just in character,” and then I realized that maybe I do like this.

When I was a freshman in high school I got to direct a play, and thought it was pretty cool. Then my junior year my teacher asked if I wanted to teach the freshman class and direct their show, and I did that both my junior and senior year and loved it. I applied to UT’s Theatre Studies program and here I am.

What was your experience in the UTeach program?

I think that the theatre education program is one of the best anywhere. It really gives you lots of opportunities to teach. Not a lot of universities offer two student-teaching placements, and that’s invaluable. I could not have decided what I wanted to do without experiencing them both.

My professors are ridiculously smart and we get an opportunity to learn everything, like lighting design and scenic design and costume design. I can now draw, I could not draw before. I was taught how to use units and lesson plans, and how to do activities instead of lecture. One of the biggest things I learned was student-centered teaching, which has even helped me as a director, because I ask them questions and get them to be involved and care about it. I don’t just say, “OK, do this.” All the professors really push to make sure we give all of our students a chance to have input.

Hannah Winkler with her advanced theatre middle school class

Theatre studies major and student teacher Hannah Winkler and her Pflugerville Middle School Advanced Theatre class rehearse for “The Comic Book Artist,” directed by Hannah. Photo by Jen Reel

Do you have a favorite teaching moment?

One of my favorite teaching moments was when I was at Lewisville High School. I had a student who was in Theatre One just for the credit and was extremely shy. We had a project where they were reading Edgar Allen Poe stories. This girl never raised her voice above a whisper, but she was so loud when reading. I told her she did a great job, and she said when she gets nervous she gets louder. When she walked off, I saw that she had a huge smile on her face and after that she worked really hard because she felt successful. I just can’t imagine myself doing anything else, I get to combine my two passions. I knew since second grade that I loved school and never wanted to leave it. Now I don’t have to.  

Hannah Winkler

Hannah Winkler reviews lines with her Advanced Theatre students at Pflugerville Middle School. Photo by Jen Reel


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