With the help of his experiences in the Music & Theatre Arts Department at UWEC, graduate Matthew Turek has found great success as a middle school band teacher in West Chicago. Turek was raised in Monroe, WI, and was a music education major (euphonium player) and philosophy minor from the class of 2013. According to Dr. Gretchen Peter, Chair of the Music and Theatre Arts Department, “Matt was an outstanding student who actively engaged in ideas across his curriculum. It was a real pleasure to have him in class.”
In 2018, Turek won the Illinois Teacher of the Year award in the subcategory of young teachers, or those with five or fewer years of experience. “It was nice to draw attention to my school and the things that my students were doing,” Turek says. “Few educators get recognized in that way, that it honestly made me a little bashful when I got it because of that exact fact, that there were so many capable and talented people around you.” Despite the prestige of the award, he remains modest and credits good timing and his experiences.
“I think a great educator is somebody who is, to steal some jargon back from my UWEC days, a collaborative leader,” he says. “That was talked about a lot in our education preparation program, and all of the experiences that I’ve had as a teacher that have had any semblance of success can tie back to that concept... I think teachers are extremely connected and perceptive people, the good ones, and are extremely responsive to facilitate the outcomes that they want for their students.”
Turek says that UW-Eau Claire’s nurturing environment both inside and outside of the music education program prepared him for his career. “I met so many great people at UW-Eau Claire. I had amazing professors, and all of the classes that really mattered to me, I got to know my professors and my professors got to know me, which I think was really important. Every music content area class I had, professors knew who I was and I could ask them questions freely.”
The connected community of people is what made Turek’s experience at UW-Eau Claire impactful. “Making lifelong friends, that changes you in ways that you can’t really pinpoint and articulate. But then also friends within the content area who have ended up being a really strong source of professional development and resources going on, like still reaching out to people I know from school to bounce ideas off of.”
Turek says he’s confident that his fellow classmates from UW-Eau Claire would have been recognized in the same way. “I was thinking back to all of the people that went through my music education cohort with me, so all of the people that took those final batch of education and music classes together, all the people who were student teaching at the same time, and I’m thinking of all of those people and inserting them into my current job. They, I am sure, would’ve all been recognized just as well by the community because they were thirsty for some awesome music. It was just kind of the right situation at the right time.”