“Rookie Teacher of the Year”. That’s the new title of 2020 UW-Eau Claire graduate Peyton Gunzke. A native of Waseca, MN, Grunzke majored in Music Education with an instrumental emphasis in her time at UWEC.
Music Education majors complete their certification with a full semester of student teaching. In that, Gunzke took the road less traveled, opting to leave the midwest and head to Texas to fulfil her requirement. That decision proved to be a good one: Peyton was named “Rookie Teacher of the Year” for the Stovall Middle School in Aldine, TX.
When asked what the most rewarding part of her job is, Grunzke states without hesitation: “The kids, wholeheartedly.” The kids to which she is referring are middle schoolers whom most are picking up instruments for the first time. “I have found a love for teaching beginning bands. Specifically because the growth is just so profound. The kids come in not knowing anything about the instrument and by the end of the year, they can sight-read ‘Ode to Joy.’ It's just so rewarding and fun to see them be so excited about learning this new skill and making music. I think that's definitely the best part,” says Peyton.
The recent graduate spoke fondly of her time at UWEC and knows that she was well-prepared to step into a classroom due to the experiences she had in college. This is the goal of all UW-Eau Claire Music Education professors for their students according to Music Education Coordinator, Laura Dunbar.
Professor Dunbar is crystal clear about her goals with regard to potential teachers: “I am helping to build my future colleagues. I have the responsibility of making sure my future colleagues know and are able to understand whats going on in the classrooms, what's happening in music education, what’re some of the issues surrounding music education, and how do I transition them from the idea of a ‘student mindset’ to a ‘teacher mindset.’”
Grunzke and Dunbar both agree on the key to becoming a great educator: It's to realize that students come first in every situation.
“The best educators are student-centered,” says Peyton. “They are always thinking about what’s going to be best for the students and what’s going to help them long-term.”
“I think we do a really good job of helping students think about their students first and keeping things relevant for those students,” Says Dr. Dunbar. “Students in your classroom come first. You’re working on making connections with them. You’re working on making them better musicians. You’re thinking about what steps you can take for the students. And I think our program does a really nice job of really believing in student-centered pedagogy.”
Dunbar added that exceptional educators also have “A willingness to grow, a willingness to take risks, and a willingness to realize that they’re on a journey that doesn’t have an end point.”
Having a growth mindset is essential to this profession, and it’s a quality that Peyton certainly has. “Peyton’s just one of those people that’s very willing to put herself out there and try new things,” says Dunbar.
Of course while the majority of her success stems from her brilliant work ethic and undying passion for education, Peyton is sure to credit the UW-Eau Claire Music Education Program for setting her on the right path.
“I loved my experience at Eau Claire, and I’m so grateful that even though I moved somewhere that was literally the opposite of Eau Claire, WI, I still felt prepared to do my job.” says Peyton. “I'm very grateful for the education I received there.