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Alumni Features

Elsbeth Clarson













I’m in the tenth year of my teaching career but many of the events that would change and define my life happened about nine years ago.

I currently teach 6thgraders how to read a timeline including how to name the centuries. The 1700’s is called the 18thcentury.  Many students don’t understand at first.  “Why isn’t it the 17thcentury?”  It’s is the year zero.  It’s where the Common Era begins and everything else is just “Before.”

I had a tough time getting a teaching job in 2010.  I graduated the winter before from the UTeach-Liberal Arts program and had a slew of jobs, including census work, state benchmark grading, waiting tables and substituted teaching, that only fortified my desire to become a Social Studies teacher in Austin.  After 87 applications, emails to former mentors, two interviews and a joyous conversation from the Austin ISD HR department, I had finally attained a job in my chosen profession.

The first six weeks as a 7thgrade Texas History teacher at Fulmore (now Lively Middle School) were full of ups and downs but I was taking the sore throats, seating charts, lesson plans, Texas History curriculum, new students, new co-workers, and new life in stride.  That Friday, October 8, I decided to take a nap when I got home from school.  The day had been filled with a team meeting, lunch with classroom all-stars, six classes and duty.  I was spent.

Later that night, I woke up to a phone call from my mother.  My father had a heart attack.  He had died.  I needed go home to Houston right away.  This was a devastating blow.  My father supported me my whole life. He loved talking to people, cheering on UT football, practicing yoga, and listening to music really loud. He was so proud of me becoming a teacher. A surreal cloud of sorrow now hung over my head.     

I felt gut punched.  After sleeping for what seemed like an eternity, I woke up to work that needed to be done.  On October 8, 2010, my new era had begun. 

After a week in Houston, I returned to a job where I needed to be on my “A” game.  Austin ISD was going through a RIF “Reduction in Force”. I was told by the principal, department head and even the superintendent at the “Teacher of Promise” ceremony that teaching positions will be cut for budget reasons.  I was going to survive this.  I referred back to all my training I had received at UT and UTeach to surmount these obstacles.

My passion for learning and history would be my solution. My professors embodied this passion as I saw through their lectures, selection of readings, and examinations of the historical record.    Professor Joe Kieke taught me how to break huge concepts like “colony” or “democracy” into smaller chunks where kids could understand.   Professor Michael Lopez described the beauty and horrors of being a middle school teacher so accurately.   Dr. Janet Meisel, Dr. David Oshinsky, and Dr. Laurie Green wove intricate narratives with copious evidence and details.  They were experts at the curriculum.  I respected them for the work they put in to learning the details. I model this for my students.  I aspire to be a master learner just like my professors at UT. 

I made it through my first year and subsequent years by practicing what I learned at UT.  I learn more to teach my students better. I am constantly asking questions about the world around me. I experience so much joy when I travel, read, revel in music, film and artistic performances.  My friends and family keep me grounded and hopeful about life’s new challenges.  I still have so much to learn from other master teachers at my school as well as the almost 2000 and counting students that have sat in my classroom.  I have learned to appreciate what people give you; their talents, their effort, their products, and, especially, their time.

austin Darrow 











In the blistering heat of Summer 2017, I drove my '97 Saturn, no AC, windows down, the three hours from downtown Austin to the southern suburbs of Houston. In the passenger seat rode a change of clothes, a jug of lukewarm water, and a binder of resumes, interview tips, and written out responses to potential interview questions.

I. Was. Nervous. Isn't everybody for their first round of professional career interviews? And those nerves were only excited further by the visible heat waves pouring in through the windows. But every so often, I felt the reprieve of a cool breeze, some pocket of air that had lingered a few moments in the shade before blessing me with its arrival. Every so often, I felt the nerves give way to something more deeply ingrained--confidence.

It wasn't an unwarranted confidence, not arrogance, that cooled my nerves that summer. Nor was it an effort-will-lead-to-results confidence. It was a firm confidence, built from several semesters of experience, from the vast treasury of theoretical expertise gifted to me by my mentors and professors, from the wealth of practical knowledge passed down to my eager ears. I entered each interview room that summer with nerves, yes, but also with a self-assurance that I had learned from the best our state has to offer: UTeach.

Both the confidence and the source of it assisted me greatly during the interviews. With even a cursory glance at my resume, 'UTeach - Liberal Arts, Jan 2014 - May 2017' boldly proclaimed at the top of the page, my interviewers' faces lit up. "Wow! We love the UTeach program! Tell us more about that!"

And so I did.

First, I told them how I had spent time observing and teaching students in all levels of schooling--from third graders learning to write their first narratives to twelfth graders applying for college. I spent time in front of students from many walks of life, whether it be ninth grade pre-AP gifted & talented students or seventh graders learning English as a second language. I shared the engaging lessons my mentors gave and that I imitated, the unique approaches to classroom management or assessment discussed during team meetings I sat in on, the supportive and constructive feedback I received from my supervisor, and so much more.

Next, I told them about the different classes I took, each presenting unique models and strategies for teaching, and how I was given the agency and support to explore these methods as I developed my own philosophy of teaching.

Last, I told them about the bonds I formed--with my professors, my mentors and supervisor; with my peers (now colleagues); and most importantly, with my students. I shared how, though I understood I had a lifetime of learning ahead of me, UTeach gifted me with the most fundamental trait a teacher must have: confidence that I wanted to spend my days walking alongside and learning with my students. This wasn't a theory. It was a reality that I had now spent years living, and that I knew I wanted to continue living for years to come.

Today, I am in the thick of my third year as a full-time teacher at Clear Creek High School. Each year has brought its own set of unique opportunities for growth--new preps, new teams, new expectations. This year I have continued my journey teaching English I, but have also been newly entrusted with the AP Literature and Composition courses. But I enter into this great struggle just as I did in the summer of '17: with the confidence instilled in me through my formation in UTeach - Liberal Arts.












My time in the UTeach program was wonderful. I was able to experience various classroom cultures in a way that prepared me for my future career. I taught and observed at a variety of schools and I really believe that these experiences prepared me far more than many other first year teachers that I met. Many programs do not offer the breadth and depth of which UTeach offers. 

I made long lasting friendships and connections that are still important to me today. My classwork made sure that I was well aware of a myriad of education related topics including GT education, educational psychology and special education. 

I teach AP US History and AP Art History at a 6a high school in North Dallas. I have taught for 13 years and went on to earn a Master's in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus in Gifted Education from UNT. 

I love teaching for two reasons. The first is that my students are sunshine in a dark world and they are energetic, bright and fun.  I have met incredible students who will truly change the world! Secondly, I get to talk about my hobby. History is fun! I get to tell stories of people who upturned their worlds in incredible ways. I love it when kids tell me that something is interesting or that they've "never liked history before". That's a challenge!

My present challenge is modifying my curriculum to meet my students where they are while still challenging them and maintaining high expectations. My students are coming with fewer skills and often have a lot of needs outside of school that make their lives hard. I am constantly changing what I'm doing in a way that I hope benefits every single learner in my class.