Learn more about the 2020-2021 New Jersey County Teachers of the Year:

What is your name & job title?

My name is Angie Mikula and I am an art teacher.

Do you love your job? What do you love about it?

I love being a teacher. One of the best things about being an art teacher, is that I get to work with many of my students from their first week of kindergarten until their last week of 8th grade. I get to watch them grow and develop their visual voice. We use art as a window for learning about the world together and with each art challenge I watch them work through creative acts of interpretation and invention. I provide the opportunity for them to find their voice, and am given the privilege of hearing it.

Tell me about your students.

I am so grateful to be working with so many enthusiastic, and insightful kids. They keep me on my toes and motivate me to work hard for them. I think they have more difficult challenges than my generation did as kids. But each time I give them the platform to express their ideas and values, the more confident I become that they will persevere through the difficult times and be stronger for it.

Tell me about a project related to your work that you’re really proud of.

It’s a tradition to end the school year with a Fine Art Festival to highlight the talent of both my students and the artists in my community. Every student chooses an art piece they are most proud of to be displayed while local artists spend a day with us demonstrating their skills. We have hands-on workshops for families and one big community art project that we create together. But the best part of this festival is the opportunity it creates for teambuilding and project based learning. Our last art festival grew into a week-long event. Students and teachers worked with a mural painter and mindfulness instructor to transform a school courtyard into a mindfulness garden. It’s now used as an outdoor classroom and it exemplifies what we can accomplish when we all work together.

What is your connection to your union/local association?

We have a great history of union reps at my school and I am grateful to those who have lead us to a better functioning educational system. It’s teachers like our current rep, Valerie Wheatley who keep us informed and stronger through contributions as an advocate, a mentor and a leader.

Why did you choose a career in public education?

When I took my first teaching job in a public school I was 23. I chose teaching because I love to work with kids, but I grew to understand that this career path comes with enormous accountability and potential for impact. I want to make a difference.

Have you had a teacher or educational support professional who inspired you?

I had big shoes to fill when I took the job as art teacher at Delaware Township School. Two previous art teachers have been very influential in my current work. The first is Kay Casavant who, despite retiring 20 years ago, comes back to the art room once a week to assist with displays and the yearly Fine Art Festival. Kay received the very first “Teacher of the Year: award at my school.

The second is Ken Vieth who taught at my school 40 years ago and has since become one of Davis publication’s most published authors for art education resources. His mentorship and encouragement has inspired me to achieve professional development goals that have contributed greatly to my teaching. I hope to have even half the impact in my career that he has had on teachers like me in the field of art education.

If you had to describe public education in one word, what would that be?

My first thought is “inclusive” because public education is for everyone. However, we have work to do to make this opportunity equitable for everyone. More than ever our students need to feel safe and validated in school.

Public education is facing many challenges. One is the impact that COVID-19 has had on how we teach and how students learn. What have you learned about how you, your colleagues, and your students adapted to remote instruction?

The pandemic has cast a light on our vulnerabilities in education. Equal access to instruction is now our greatest priority. Now that we are turning our attention to best practices in a virtual learning format, I’ve learned it is more important than ever to role model the effectiveness of teamwork with our colleagues and not let these new insular settings further silo our subject areas. While students spend more time in front of a computer, we need to keep our attention on their mental health as well as their sense of connection with the rest of the world. If we provide lessons encouraging self-reflection and responsibility, we can engage their sense of purpose. It’s important to recognize that our greatest resources are one another. We need to think and act as a team while we collaborate in both our teaching and expected outcomes.

As a result of George Floyd’s murder, along with other tragedies targeting Black people, more and more people are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. How has this affected you as an educator, and as a person, and how do you see yourself addressing systemic racism through your work as a teacher? 

The Black Lives Matter movement has taught me that it’s more important than ever not to shy away from uncomfortable conversations. As a teacher and a parent, I must self-assess my own internal biases and reexamine my lessons to be sure that I am not minimalizing the contributions of people of color. We need to ask ourselves, “what do we want our communities to become?” Teachers are agents of change and communities can be cultivated if we motivate our students to be the best versions of themselves as they work together.

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