Alumna Ali Petrauskas has been named “Rookie Teacher of the Year” by the North Carolina Art Educators Association (NCAEA). The NCAEA is the state's largest advocacy group dedicated to supporting visual arts education.
Petrauskas is in her third year as an art teacher at Harold E. Winkler Middle School in Concord, N.C. A double major at UNC Charlotte, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art with a concentration in painting in 2016. After graduating, she returned to UNC Charlotte to earn a Graduate Certificate in Art Education and gained her teaching license in 2018.
“UNC Charlotte prepared me for teaching in multiple ways,” Petrauskas said. “The art department, where I received both Bachelor’s degrees, taught me a lot about taking risks and problem-solving in art-making. This is very much the process of a beginning teacher (in or out of a pandemic).”
Additionally, since Winkler Middle School is an International Baccalaureate school, she has relied on her art history education to provide global context to her lesson plans, and she brings her knowledge of Social Emotional Learning – a focus of her art education training – into the classroom to encourage self-reflection and self-discovery.
The NCAEA honors one beginning teacher each year who has made “an exemplary initial contribution” and “demonstrates the potential for development.” Petrauskas was nominated for the award by a colleague and subsequently completed an application with portfolio.
“I learn from my students every day,” said Petrauskas. “They inspire me with their ideas, and they challenge my critical thinking. However, the relationships that develop are hands-down the best part of teaching. To have former students reach out after they are out of my class, on to high school, etc., just to check in, is indescribable.”
September 12 -18 is National Arts in Education Week, and the designation prompted Petrauskas to consider the role of the arts in all students’ education.
“Art can teach students that they have a voice and can express themselves without using words or speaking aloud,” she said. “It can show connections across cultures. The problem-solving and critical thinking that goes into the process of art making can make a difference in any student’s life, whether they choose an art-based career or not. Not only is art education important, but it’s fun, and kids deserve to have an hour of fun in class every day, to be social and experiment with messy things.”