UNC Charlotte English Alumnus Named NC Teacher of the Year

UNC Charlotte alumnus Bobbie Cavnar of Gaston County is the North Carolina Teacher of the Year for 2016-2017.

Cavnar, an English teacher, completed his master’s degree in English at UNC Charlotte in 2011. This is his 17th year in the teaching profession; he has taught since 2003 at South Point High School in Belmont.

“Bobbie sees public education as the one thing that is equal and fair in a child’s life,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson. “He sees teachers as the equalizers, the keepers of America’s promise of equal opportunity.” Atkinson announced his selection as the 2016 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year on April 7.

Visitors to Cavnar’s classroom enter a world of writers. He has pulled elements into his classroom that illustrate the subjects studied, including portraits and other items. Cavnar brings to life the works of British writers including Shakespeare, Shelley, Byron and Dickens.

“I love sharing Shakespeare with kids,” Cavnar told The Gaston Gazette. “My students always think it’s going to be the hardest thing in the class, but they end up loving it. That’s the thrill of teaching – when you really work and push yourself to learn something, that when you finally get it, that’s what is deeply rewarding.”

Cavnar in classCavnar nurtured his knowledge and enthusiasm for literature in his classes at UNC Charlotte.

“I remember Bobbie very well,” English Department Chair Mark West said. “He took a course with me that focused on children’s literature award winners. That was a year in which we researched The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, which won the Newbery Medal.”

Cavnar drew upon his deep knowledge of literature – particularly British literature – to reflect upon the themes in Gaiman’s contemporary book and to explore how they connected with themes in The Jungle Book, a collection of stories published by Engish author Rudyard Kipling in 1894.

“Bobbie wrote this fantastic paper in which he drew the connections between the two books,” West said. “He understood Kipling so well that he could make really complex connections, not just surface observations.”

That ability translates to Cavnar’s classroom, as he helps students analyze difficult texts and construct meaning from what they are reading and researching.

“He seems to be able to make a classic work of literature, especially British works, relevant to today’s students,” West says. “Students see what they are studying as interesting and relatable to their own lives and experiences. I think that’s one of the reasons he’s being honored. This is a high and well-deserved honor.”

Cavnar with studentsStudents say they enjoy being in Cavnar’s classroom because he is engaging, asks their opinions and values what they say and believe. “He makes you want to come to school; he teaches life lessons, not just English,” one student said.

Gaston County Superintendent of Schools W. Jeffrey Booker said Cavnar’s selection was no surprise. “He is an exceptional teacher who cares deeply for his students and is extremely passionate about public education,” Booker said. “Simply put, Mr. Cavnar is a model teacher. He is admired and respected by his students, colleagues, parents, and the community.

Cavnar participates in the Gaston County Teacher Induction Program for Success, educating incoming teachers in model classroom best practices. He has presented at a number of workshops including the UNC Charlotte Writing Project Spring and Fall Conferences in 2013 and the North Carolina English Teachers Association Fall Conference in 2010.

Cavnar has received awards including the 2016 Southwest Region Teacher of the Year, 2015 Wells Fargo Educator of the Year for Gaston County Schools, 2014 South Point High School Teacher of the Year, and South Point High School Most Influential Educator, voted on by students, for 2013, 2011, 2009, 2006 and 2004.

Cavnar will spend the next school year traveling the state as an ambassador for the teaching profession. He also will serve as an advisor to the State Board of Education for two years and as a board member for the NC Public School Forum for one year. In addition, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction will sponsor his enrollment and completion of the Education Policy Fellowship Program.

He will receive the use of a state vehicle for one year, a one-year leased vehicle from Flow Automotive, LLC, the opportunity to attend a seminar at the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching, a mobile device from Lenovo valued at approximately $1,600, an engraved vase, a one-time cash award of $7,500, a trip to the National Teacher of the Year Conference and International Space Camp, and the opportunity to travel abroad through an endowment sponsored by The Center for International Understanding.

Words: Lynn Roberson | Images courtesy of The Gaston Gazette and Gaston County Schools. Used with permission.

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