The State Department of Education will pick Alaska’s teacher of the year next month.
This week we’ll have profiles of each of the five finalists, from across the state.
Jacob Bera is the fine arts chair at Eagle River high school. He has students at all levels, from kids who’ve never considered art as a hobby, to those who are just as passionate as he was in his AP Studio Art class.
Growing up in Wisconsin, Bera’s grandfather was his biggest inspiration. Not only did he inspire him to serve in the military, but he instilled a lifelong passion for art.
“My grandpa was an artist, and he was a poet, and he was very creative. When I was growing up, my parents split, so I was always kinda grandpa’s shadow,” Bera said. “And watching him work in the woodshop and watching him create really started to instill a passion for art. And then as I moved through school, I had inspiring teachers that kept that passion going.”
After eight years in the marines, Bera went to college to study art. During his summers, he worked at a camp in Wisconsin that inspired him to become a teacher.
“We worked with kids with disabilities, so hearing impairments, visual impairments cognitive disabilities,” Bera said. “It was a really life-changing experience, and so that’s where I really figured out that I wanted to take art and use it as a way of teaching.
Bera loved paging through Alaska magazine as a kid and always had plans to come to the 49th state. He and his wife, also a teacher, moved here in 2003.
Bera taught at a few schools in Anchorage before Eagle River High opened in 2005. He was hired as the visual arts teacher and fine arts chair. In selecting Bera as a teacher of the year nominee, the department of education highlighted that Bera grew a comprehensive arts program from the ground up, teaching everything from drawing to ceramics — Bera’s specialty.
Bera was also highlighted for helping start the annual Fine Arts Cabaret, an event that brings together students from art and music programs to showcase their work to the community.
“You know, when the audience comes in, and they walk around and they see the work, it’s fun just to sort of step back and watch my students interact with the community and speak about their work,” Bera said. “To me, that’s the best advocacy, is having a student speak about their passion for the art and what they’re doing in schools.”
Bera is happy to instill a passion for art in his students, but he also finds he’s inspired by the work of his students.
“I will bring in some of my work and set it out, talk about how I made it, and all of a sudden, you’ll look in the back room where pots are drying out, and you’ll see five or six little mugs that look like mine,” Bera said. “But I’ll be honest and say that sometimes there’s a teapot or a vase that a student makes that I get back into my studio and say, ‘that was pretty cool how they did that.’ And so it’s definitely reciprocal in terms of the learning and teaching.”
Bera says seeing students progress from freshmen to seniors, not only in their art, but also in their aspirations, is what keeps him driven to teach,