Brit Lit high school teacher Bobbie Cavnar has been on an impressive roll lately.
Last May, he was voted Gaston County’s teacher of the year. In December, Cavnar was named Southwest Region teacher of the year.
And Thursday, at a luncheon in Cary, the 17-year teaching veteran who expounds on the works of British writers such as Shakespeare and Shelley to students at South Point High in Belmont, became the third Gaston teacher to be named N.C. Teacher of the Year – the state’s top distinction for teachers.
“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, who made the announcement at the Umstead Hotel. “He sees teachers as the equalizers, the keepers of America’s promise of equal opportunity.”
Cavnar, 38, raised in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is now in the running for the nation’s teacher of the year.
He’s taught English at South Point High the last 13 years. He didn’t grow up wanting to be a teacher, but knew he wouldn’t be fulfilled unless he found work that helped people. His father, head of an international charity, taught him that.
“His charity taught me about serving others as a profession and giving back to the community,” Cavnar said after the ceremony. “I knew I wanted to do something that was meaningful and that gave back to others – and society.”
He found he had a knack for teaching in an English education class at Florida State University. The university had a high school on campus and during that class he spent time in a classroom. “I just loved the impact it had on kids, and I’ve loved it ever since,” he said.
When he arrived in Belmont, he began to teach the great British writers: William Shakespeare (his biggest passion), and Romantic poets like Percy Shelley, George Byron and Samuel Coleridge and the Victorian novels of Charles Dickens.
“I love sharing Shakespeare with kids,” he said. “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.”
As good a teacher as he is, his latest award will take him out of the classroom for a year.
As the state teacher of the year, Cavnar will be provided the use of a state car to travel North Carolina advocating for public schools. He’ll also advise the state education board, serve on the board for the N.C. Public School Forum and take part in the Education Policy Fellowship Program.
His latest award will come with $7,500, a study abroad opportunity through The Center for International Understanding and he’ll be able to attend professional seminars and conferences.
Cavnar said he intends to travel the state listening to teachers and take their concerns to state legislators.
He said he’s aware that his professions is having a hard time recruiting good young teachers.
“We’re facing a big teacher shortage,” he said. “I’m not saying pay is everything, but it’s a big problem. Many young people find it difficult to see the cost of a college education, think about going into debt and then become a public school teacher with its low pay. It’s just not good economics.”