For many teachers, the greatest gift they can receive is the knowledge that their students have truly learned the material. For others, nothing tops recognition. For Mariko Weinhardt, a graduate student in UNC Charlotte’s education Master’s program, all she wanted was to know students learned, but she received one of the top honors available for her.
Weinhardt was recently named the 2011-12 Cabarrus County Teacher of the Year. The married mother of two knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher. “I had some really great teachers who inspired me to teach,” says Weinhardt.
Weinhardt was born on the island of American Samoa and moved to northern Virginia when she was 3-years-old. She attended Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia and received her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Shepherd College, now known as Shepherd University, in West Virginia. Weinhardt next began teaching in the Fairfax County Public School system until November 2005 when she moved to Cabarrus County and began teaching there.
The process for becoming teacher of the year was extensive, says Weinhardt.
“The process begins at the school level. Each elementary, middle and high school in the county chooses a winner. I was chosen to represent my school. From there I went through an interview process and was selected as one of the five county finalists,” said Weinhardt. “The judges went to the schools to observe the five finalists in their classrooms. From there I was chosen as the teacher of the year for the county.”
Becoming Teacher of the Year is a prestigious honor, but Weinhardt says it hasn’t changed her at all, although she recognizes the importance of the title.
“I sometimes forget that I won. It’s the students who remind me of it,” she said. “I do feel like I have higher standards to live up to but I think it’s necessary to move ahead in life. Being named Teacher of the Year has given me a greater confidence in my abilities as a teacher.”
UNC Charlotte offers a cohort program with Cabarrus County that allowed Weinhardt to return to college and further her education.
“I had taught for several years and my children were in school. [UNC Charlotte] was offering a masters cohort for Cabarrus County teachers, so it was perfect,” she said.
Juggling a family and an important career is demanding, and Weinhardt credits the cohort program for helping to ease some of the stress.
“Teaching is demanding on all levels. The cohort program has made it much easier to balance my job with being in school,” she said. “Much of what I’m learning in my classes can easily be applied to my job as a teacher.”
Weinhardt plans to continue teaching, but she also wants to explore other options if the opportunity presents itself. For up and coming teachers, Weinhardt has one piece of advice. “Teach the child, not the lesson.”