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College of Education and Allied Professions

Alumna is North Carolina’s Beginning Teacher of the Year

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WCU alumna Abby Bentley accepts her NCCAT Beginning Teacher of the Year award.

By Chaz Lilly

Abby Bentley worked as a research scientist after her undergraduate studies. In the field, she was concerned with environmental toxicology – she would test water near agriculture sites for certain pollutants.

When she started to share her research, giving public presentations, she realized she had a passion for science communication and education. Bentley found she had a talent for teaching.

That natural gift was sharpened when she came to Western Carolina University to pursue a master’s degree in comprehensive science education, which prepares graduates to teach high school science. Alongside classes in biology and earth science, Bentley also studied teaching methods, classroom design and leadership.

“I really enjoyed my time at Western,” Bentley said. “The small class sizes gave me immediate access to my professors and my adviser was always approachable and helpful. The program did a great job preparing me for my licensure exam – the whole semester of student teaching definitely prepared me for the classroom.”

After leaving WCU two years ago, Bentley landed a job teaching science at Pisgah High School in Haywood County.

Her passion for teaching has been immediately recognized. Bentley was named the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching Beginning Teacher of the Year. The award ceremony was held in the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center at WCU Thursday, Feb. 15.

“Recruiting high-quality teachers for North Carolina’s K-12 schools is one of the most important things we do at Western Carolina University – arguably, one that has potential to make the largest impact on the future of our state,” said Kim Winter, dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions. “Motivating and retaining high-quality teachers in our classrooms is our collective goal. This year, our college was proud that four of the 27 NCCAT finalists were WCU graduates. Ms. Bentley is a bright light in our region and we are beyond proud of her.”

In her nomination for the award, Bentley was described as an effective communicator who stands out for her commitment to covering standards, increasing student achievement and creating productive learning environments. It was also noted that Bentley uses her experience in the field to engage her kids with real life applications of classroom content. An administrator said “her professional teaching efforts have made a huge impact on our school.”

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This was the fifth time NCCAT has presented the award.

“NCCAT is so proud of all these finalists – all are shining examples of the teaching profession and bring talent and expertise to the classroom each and every day, for the benefit of North Carolina students,” said M. Brock Womble, NCCAT executive director. “Ms. Bentley encourages each of her students to set high goals and create pathways for them to achieve excellence.”

NCCAT supports teachers and impacts students with high-quality professional development. Increasing teacher effectiveness is fundamental to improving public education. NCCAT provides teachers with new knowledge, skills, teaching methods, best practices and information to take back to their classrooms.

“It’s good to feel validated,” Bentley said. “Teaching is an intense job and we work really hard. It’s good to be recognized for the effort.”

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