Allison Newton believes that reading is a gift that should be shared.
“Teaching a person to read opens the door to the future,” she said. “It is the most profound honor to have an opportunity to teach others to read, which is what lead me to continue my education.”
Education is Newton’s second career, but one that has brought her in touch with her passion. An English teacher at Pell City High School, she volunteers with the St. Clair County Literacy Project and late last year became the first secondary teacher to earn the Master of Arts in Reading degree with Reading Specialist Certification from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“All of us who are readers have a gift that we can share,” she said. “Imagine if we all did that and what an impact that would have on the whole city.”
In her classroom across the hall from the school library, the personable Newton explained how she came to education, why literacy is important to her, and identified her favorite book.
The road to PCHS: After a decade in sales, Newton was a stay-at-home mom until her son started kindergarten. “I started substitute teaching at the high school level and encountered so many students who were struggling with reading.” Eventually she was hired to teach reading at the secondary level and obtained a Master’s degree in education from Jacksonville State University.
Continuing education: Newton is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in early childhood education at UAB, where she also teaches a course in reading in content, which aims to help teachers incorporate literacy skills into all subject areas. “People ask me sometimes, ‘How do you do all that you do?’ I like being very busy. It’s all I know. I like to live like that.”
Changing times: “Gone are the days when you tell students to read Chapter 10 in their textbook and answer the questions. Many of them need help, and they need to be reading with a purpose, not just, ‘Here. Read this book.’ Pell City is doing a lot to improve literacy at the high school level.”
Why literacy is important to her: “I think my passion comes from knowing that my sister had reading difficulties when she was in elementary school. My desire to help people comes from that. Also, my mom had five children in 10 years. She didn’t get to go to college, but she reads voraciously, and her vocabulary is incredible. She’s the reason we all finished college.”
How she describes the experience of teaching someone to read: “There is no way to explain a particular moment when a light bulb goes on. It is more like a gradual process where the puzzle pieces begin to come together and the student over time realizes they are a reader. Whether I am volunteering with St. Clair County Literacy and working with an older student or reading side-by-side with a rising first grader, the feeling and energy is the same.”
On her reading list: “I spend most of my reading time preparing for lessons at PCHS or reading research for courses at UAB. However, I like to keep in touch with what my son and my students are interested in. Science fiction and fantasy novels have never been my favorite, and it took a while when my son was younger to get me to finally read the Harry Potter series and then The Hunger Games series, but he was right, I loved them. If a book has characters I can relate to and care about, I’m hooked.”
One of her favorite books: “Les Miserables was my favorite book that I had to read for high school English. I reread it in anticipation of the movie coming out (last) month, and I loved it so much more than I did the first time. Hugo’s writing is so profound and continues to speak to my heart. I love the themes of the power of unconditional love and forgiveness and overcoming overwhelming hardships.”
One item she’s never without: “I don’t have an item; I have a feeling that I’m never without, and that is worry. I am a worrywart. I’ve been working on that for years.”
Her biggest pet peeve: “Unkindness in any form.”
How she would like to be remembered by her students: “Most importantly, I want my students to remember that I cared about them, believed in them, and wanted the best for them and their futures.”