Casey Schulte ’12 ’17MED Celebrated as 2023 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Northeast Regional Teacher of the Year
Sporting a fake mustache and an oversized pair of aviators, Casey Schulte, a social studies teacher at Bath Elementary School, is going incognito. Unafraid to transform her classroom, and, when necessary, her appearance, in service of a lesson, Schulte donned the disguise in order to kick off a unit on espionage throughout American history.
The unit was inspired by a visit Schulte took to the International Spy Museum, and it encompassed spycraft from the Revolutionary War through the Cold War, with sections on female spies in the Revolutionary War, African American spies in the Civil War and Navajo Code Talkers during World War 2. Her students also engaged in hands-on activities, like fingerprinting.
“Many of my students have never been out of Beaufort County,” Schulte said. ” I wanted to bring a mini spy museum to them.”
When Schulte submitted her teacher of the year portfolio, she selected the espionage unit as the lesson that best represented her as an educator. The selectors took notice, and not only was Schulte named Beaufort County Teacher of the Year, but she was also named the 2023 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Northeast Regional Teacher of the Year as well.
Schulte learned she had received the award at a surprise pep rally held in honor. Bath Elementary was the school she attended growing up and she said she realized the pep rally was for her when she recognized her former teachers in the crowd.
“I cried,” Schulte said. “I was so excited. It’s an incredible honor. I’m still kind of coming down off cloud nine.”
Schulte’s students, whom she describes as some of her biggest supporters, attended the pep rally and held signs saying “Schulte Rocks.”
“We live in a small town and I think it’s really brought some joy to the community and to our school,” Schulte said.
Schulte previously worked as a science teacher in the Wake County Public School System before she and her husband decided to move to Bath, Schulte’s hometown. There, Schulte made the move to social studies, although she never left her passion for STEM behind.
“I am still a science teacher,” Schulte said.
In her classroom, she makes an effort to incorporate STEM concepts into her social studies lessons. In addition to exploring the science behind fingerprinting in the espionage unit, her students have also learned how geography shapes where humans live, conducted labs on air quality and pollution, and used Lego bricks to build structures that represent vocabulary words.
“We like to think that science is just science,” Schulte said. “No, there’s so much overlap. I try to pull in as much STEM and science education as I can, even though I’m a social studies teacher”
Schulte developed her passion for science while double majoring in biology and science education at NC State University.
“I loved NC State and I loved my professors,” Schulte said.
In the NC State College of Education, Schulte said she had the opportunity to work with faculty who modeled what it meant to be a great teacher and gained hands-on experience in the classroom through student teaching.
“NC State does a really good job of preparing its educators for what the real world actually looks like,” Schulte said.
When Schulte decided to earn her master’s degree, returning to the College of Education was an easy choice. The college’s online Master of Education in STEM Education with a concentration in Science Education program allowed Schulte to attend classes virtually, and her young son Noah was often in attendance. At the end of the semester, Professor Meg Blanchard even awarded Noah with a superlative: “Youngest Attendee.”
“That meant so much as a young mom who was scrambling to make things work to go to class,” Schulte said.
Throughout her time at the College of Education, Schulte said she learned the importance of connecting with students and ensuring that their needs were being met.
“Building relationships is the most important thing you can do in the classroom,” Schulte said.
The creative lessons Schulte plans are always in service to building those relationships, relationships that continue long past graduation. Last fall, she attended an East Carolina University vs. Navy football game in a shirt that read “I taught No. 24” to cheer on a former student. She also has a wall in her classroom dedicated to all the students who have come through her classroom.
“Once you’re a Schulte kid, you’re always a Schulte kid,” she said.