Many professionals in today’s job world calculate their success by salary earnings. Educators are not one of them.
Mount Pleasant Academy resource teacher Kate Wenger credits her career in special education to two strongholds: passion and patience. After all, she’s a 40-year-old mother of four boys.
Born in Green Bay, Wis. and raised a Packers fan, Wenger’s family packed up and moved to Charleston in 1989. Wenger enrolled at Bishop England High School and later attended Erskine College in the Upstate.
During her schooling she majored in special education and graduated suma cum lade in 2001. Wenger persists to praise her mother, Nancy Hinchey for instilling her love for education and teaching.
“She was a teacher by profession but more importantly, she was my first teacher,” Wenger said. “She taught me patience and perseverance. Her passion for education was really what motivated me to want to become a teacher.”
Hinchey taught kindergarten at O’Quinn School, a preschool in Mount Pleasant. She passed away earlier this month after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer.
After college, Wenger went to work in Charleston County School District (CCSD) from 2001-07. She then opted to teach private school for the next five years, during this time she had three of her four boys.
Wenger took an extended period of leave to have her fourth son. In 2017, she returned to CCSD to teach third through fifth graders with learning disabilities at Mount Pleasant Academy (MPA).
“After I did general education in the private sector for awhile, I enjoyed it but there’s just something near and dear to my heart working with some of my students who just learn in a different manner,” she said.
Wenger said what’s most appealing about teaching special education is having the opportunity to educate each child wholly. By this she means not only focusing on academic standards, but also their social and emotional well-being to help them thrive outside the classroom.
“I work with extremely innovative and creative students and I think some days they teach me more than I possibly could teach them,” she said.
Part of her outside-the-box approach, she takes her students on field trips to show them that real world experience that they can’t find within the classroom. What’s unique about Wenger is she sometimes does this on her own time, even over holiday breaks.
She goes as far to integrate her own children with her students field trips so they can understand firsthand what she does on a daily basis. Wenger finds learning most effective from others perspectives.
Wegner recalled last winter break when she took her class to the Roundball Classic in North Charleston. She said it was a great experience for all of them to watch the sporting event, but more importantly friendships were forged between her sons and her students.
“I definitely put the mom hat on when I get home. The teacher hat doesn’t work at home,” she said lightheartedly.
In 2019, Wenger was awarded Teacher of the Year at MPA. The staff took a school-wide vote and Wenger received the most nominations among 60 of her peers.
“I was surprised because I very much value the people I work with and really feel that education is definitely something we work on together,” she said. “I was very happy and proud. It was an honor.”
Wenger said she wouldn’t be the teacher she is today without the support of her administration. She thanked MPA principal Kim Jackson for taking a chance on her back when she was only a substitute teacher at the school. Jackson seemed equally thankful.
“Kate is not only a phenomenal teacher but she loves these kids like they are her own,” Jackson said. “She takes care of our kids inside school and outside and beyond these walls.”
Jackson commented how Wenger doesn’t just stick to the curriculum. She surpasses the school’s expectations by teaching with her heart.
“She’s what teaching is all about; building relationships and loving the children,” Jackson added. “We’re lucky to have her.”
Wenger received the award along with nearly 60 other CCSD educators.The full list of CCSD Teacher of the Year Tributes can be found at ccsdschools.com/teacher-of-year-2019.