By Bernie Petit
Allison Rayson promised herself she wouldn’t be a boring teacher.
“I always wanted to have an engaging class and I always challenge myself to come up with lesson plans to push the students and make them excited about history, which can sometimes be seen as not such an exciting topic,” said Rayson, a third-year fifth-grade history and literacy teacher at McAlpine Elementary in Charlotte.
Being named a recipient of the 2013 Arts & Science Council Cato Excellence in Teaching Award proves she’s lived up to her promise.
Rayson is one of six teachers from across the greater Charlotte region that will be honored as Cato Award winners Tuesday, Oct. 8 at “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration Featuring Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis.” For tickets or event information, click here.
The Cato Award honors teachers who have distinguished themselves in teaching art, science or history, or who have creatively infused art, science or history into the core curriculum.
Rayson, a trained dancer, does that by integrating dance and movement into her classroom. When her students learn about the 1920s, for example, she teaches them the Charleston, a popular dance of the pre-Depression era. When they’re learning about different cultures, she shows them YouTube videos of dances representative of those cultures to illustrate the close link between the dance and cultural identity.
During poetry lessons, she turns her classroom into a café. She often provides her students opportunities to create dances representative of the emotions of characters from the books they’re reading.
“It helps to give them something kinesthetic to hang onto,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just a silly movement to remember a simple fact or something to go along with a poem.”
For Rayson, incorporating movement into her classroom allows her to take the curriculum and textbooks she has to use and turn them into awesome experiences her students will remember.
“I look at my students who may struggle and I want them to enjoy school too,” she said. “By having engaging classes, I can tap into different ways of learning so that I can hopefully have all of my students be successful in their own way.”
Dance is not the only way Rayson helps her students find success. She also incorporates simulations, in-class projects, group work and anything else she can think of to help the facts her students are learning become memories that stick with them years after they’ve left her classroom.
“Even if it’s one small thing I get them to be excited about, I feel like getting kids excited about learning is your most important job as a teacher,” she said. “And I get excited to see my kids get involved in my lessons and see those ‘light bulb’ moments and things like that. They are building the skills they’ll need for life.”
2013 Cato Award Winners
Cortney Cooke Davis, Sunset Park Center for Accelerated Studies, York County.
Kenneth Koch, Northeast Middle, Mecklenburg County.
Glenn Baron, Kensington Elementary, Union County.
Cynthia Dey, Lake Wylie Elementary, Mecklenburg County.
Wayne Phaneuf, Cuthbertson High School, Union County.
Allison Rayson, McAlpine Elementary, Mecklenburg County.