Elizabethtown is first Pennsylvania College to offer theatre endorsement for education majors
Eager moms and dads, siblings and glowing grandparents sit in hushed anticipation as the curtain rises on the middle school production of “Wizard of Oz.”
Backstage, the director carefully cues lighting, music and actors. Earlier in the week, he helped finalize sets and costumes — all while teaching sixth-grade English.
School administrators, at all levels, are on the lookout for one or two incoming teachers who are willing and able to run the schools’ theatre programs. Often, those educators, who give time and energy to help create and produce an excellent student experience, are recruited from the music or English departments. Most, however, have no direct theatre experience.
Beginning in fall 2017 Elizabethtown College offers the very first Theatre Endorsement opportunity in the state of Pennsylvania. Approved, last spring, by the Department of Education, Elizabethtown will offer the 12-credit addition to a student’s bachelor’s degree. The endorsement gives a graduate a significant boost when looking to land that first teaching position.
The idea of a theatre endorsement was first recommended in Pennsylvania in 2012, said Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“At that point there were no credentials for expertise” in these areas, he said. “Nothing that says ‘I have experience’.”
There were endorsements for Autism Spectrum Disorders; Gifted; Instructional Coach; Mathematics Coach; Online Instruction; Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); and, more recently, said Christina Baumer, division chief at the Department of Education, an endorsement for Creative Movement.
When a request went out for a college to write the theatre endorsement guidelines, Elizabethtown College stepped up, said David Deitz, a retired music teacher from Central Dauphin School District who is now the fine arts education consultant for the Department of Education. Although the idea of a theatre and dance endorsement has really been around for about 30 years it finally started to gain momentum in the past few years. An ultimate goal would be to have a unique theatre education certification, Deitz said, “but the endorsement is a good step in getting it rocking and rolling for that next level.”
“As someone who cares about the arts and theatre and is an advocate for theatre education, I am extremely happy,” said Kevin Shorner-Johnson, associate professor of music education at Elizabethtown and one of the originators of the E-town theatre endorsement program. “It’s another way of adding value to education majors, a significant boost to a student’s diploma.”
An endorsement differs from a minor or concentration by the amount of class hours needed to acquire the designation. “It’s a lower credit load,” he said.
Knowing they can take on an extra role might be a tipping point when a school is choosing between two teacher candidates.”
Theatre endorsement was initially created by the Department of Education in 2015 but needed to follow a review process before it would be approved at the College. There were additional approvals by E-town’s Fine and Performing Arts faculty, the Education Department and the College’s academic council, said Jim Haines, professor of music and chair of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts.
“Anything we can do at this point to combine what we do well with an emphasis on liberal arts as part of the professional outcome as a teacher is important,” Haines said.
He predicts interest to come mostly from elementary, secondary or music education students, but the endorsement, he said, is open to all education majors.
To be eligible for the theatre endorsement, Baumer said, the student must hold a Level I or II instructional teaching certificate in any subject area. “It could be a chemistry teacher with an interest in theatre,” she said.
“Lots of education students who come to E-town want to do theatre but (because of course load) can’t do a minor,” said Michael Swanson, associate professor of theatre and director of theatre and dance at Elizabethtown College. “This gives them experience in directing, technical areas, overall run of the show, history, literature and playwriting.”
The four areas of instruction associated with the endorsement are acting, directing and producing; play creation; technical theatre and design; and theatre history.
With more and more schools looking for teachers who are multifaceted, the theatre endorsement gives E-town education students an edge on hireability.
“Knowing they can take on an extra role might be a tipping point when a school is choosing between two teacher candidates,” said Shorner-Johnson.
The endorsement eligibility starts this fall, utilizing classes Elizabethtown College already has. Over the next two years, new classes will be introduced.