Teacher, coach, mentor and confidant
The disappointed young student stormed up to U of A music education professor Bob de Frece the Wednesday morning after de Frece's absence from his weekly class. "Where were you last week?" she demanded.
Coming from a university student — a breed typically delighted with a class cancellation — the question might seem odd. But it was asked by one of the kindergarten students to whom de Frece taught weekly music classes at Jean Vanier School in Sherwood Park. The youngster's eagerness to learn is a testimony to de Frece's teaching skills and contagious enthusiasm, which he is passing on to students in the Faculty of Education.
"I haven't taught in a school full-time since 1980, but I don't want to turn into a stale instructor standing up there with a yellowed set of notes," says the ebullient instructor, explaining his volunteer activities at the elementary school where his wife also teaches music.
De Frece believes that modeling appropriate behavior is the most powerful form of teaching. For example, he might compose an original song for students in his music creativity class to demonstrate creative thinking. Teaching kindergarten students and conducting the Mixed Chorus and hand-bell ringers at the University are other ways he models a zeal for the profession. "I often feel that Education professors are under more scrutiny than people in other faculties because it's assumed we are good teachers," he says. "If you want to teach teaching, the best way is through being a good teacher yourself."
De Frece is not only a 1993 Rutherford Teaching Award winner, but one of three professors to be honored this year with the first annual Faculty of Education Teaching Awards. "Bob de Frece is a most energetic, effective teacher who empowers his students to assume personal control over their studies and careers," says Dave Sande, Education's associate dean in charge of undergraduate student services. "He serves as teacher, coach, mentor, and confidant of his students."
Curiously, the celebrated educator began his professional training at the University not in education but with a Bachelor of Science degree and entrance into the Faculty of Medicine. De Frece says that he quickly discovered he was illsuited for that career path, "I didn't last more than a year," says de Frece, the longago incident now recalled with one of his frequent bursts of laughter.
A change of faculties — and careers — worked out to the benefit of de Frece and, eventually, the University. After becoming a teacher he initially taught science, , but soon changed specializations to shar( his love of music. De Frece v,-as promptea-.p., to switch from teaching to teacher education when "I realized that the teaching I was doing in my classroom with my kids was only benefitting those kids." He recalls thinking, "If I could teach teaching, think of how many more kids would eventually benefit." De Frece says the most gratifying feedback he gets is when he hears that a former student of his has become a respected teacher.
De Frece has the opportunity to interact with a great number of the Faculty's students, as he teaches in three areas: elementary, music, and secondary education. Along with colleagues and other experts in music education, he has written or co-written numerous textbooks, including Canada: It's Music, a unique, colorful guide to Canadian music for secondary students, widely ' used in schools across the country. Currently, he works with two music education PhD students. The wide range of his , involvements in the Facultv and Universityprovides a constant challenge. "I think I have a really ideal job because of the I variety," he says.
Within the mix of his activities, underNo graduate teaching remains an important element for this young-at-heart educator: "Undergraduates are wonderful, fun people," he says with a broad smile, "They keep you feeling young."
Published Autumn 1993.