Retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Terry Hennings ’15MAT Named 2023 Wake County Public School System Teacher of the Year
When Terry Hennings retired from the Air Force after serving for 25 years as a combat medic, he knew what he wanted to do next. He wanted to teach.
“I remember the impact that [my teachers] had on my life,” said Hennings, a social studies teacher at Garner Magnet High School. “That was the reason why when I left the military I wanted to go into education. I wanted to try to have that same exact impact on students’ lives that those individuals had on mine.”
Hennings was recognized for the impact he has made as a teacher when, at an award ceremony in April, he was named the 2023 Wake County Public School System Teacher of the Year.
“Winning this award is an honor, but to me, the best part about winning Wake County Public School System’s Teacher of the Year is to see the joy and the excitement of my students,” Hennings said. “It’s like they have won, and so for them to be so excited and have a sense of pride and a sense of joy, that really makes my heart smile.”
At Garner Magnet High, Hennings teaches civic literacy and African American studies in a school environment he describes as a supportive family.
“It’s as if all the teachers at Garner have won,” Hennings said.
When Hennings left the military, he knew he possessed leadership skills and a strong background in history. But he also knew he needed to know more about how to be a teacher. That’s what led him to the NC State College of Education.
“That was the best decision that I ever made because they definitely put me on the right track,” Hennings said.
At NC State, Hennings said he gained a strong foundation that prepared him to be an effective educator.
“Just knowing that my professors wanted me to succeed and knowing that I could go to them regarding questions about anything, I think that’s priceless,” Hennings said. “If anybody is considering going into education, I would say their first stop should be the NC State College of Education.”
Hennings also credits NC State’s Jeffrey Wright Military and Veteran Services with ensuring a smooth transition from military to university life.
“They made sure that my GI Bill was squared away and my tuition was squared away,” Hennings said. “My entire experience at NC State was A plus. They made sure that I was taken care of. And really the only thing that I needed to do was succeed in the classroom and put my efforts toward becoming a good teacher.”
As a teacher, Hennings draws on both lessons learned during his time at NC State, as well as experience gained during his 25 years in the Air Force, to create a classroom centered on his students.
“Each and every day, my kids, they’re reading, writing, speaking and thinking critically,” Hennings said. “They know that’s what they’re going to do when they come to my class, so I think they know that they’re going to be involved. They know that their voices are going to be heard.”
In allowing his students to express themselves, Hennings sees an opportunity to better connect with them as people.
“Once I find that connection, then you know what, that makes it easier for me to teach, and it makes it easier for me to reach them academically as well,” Hennings said. “It’s just all about finding that connection.”
Hennings thinks his time spent in the Air Force, especially the international experience he gained by living in countries such as England, Germany, Turkey and Qatar, also helps him connect with his students.
“That’s maybe why the kids enjoy my class so much, because of the places that I’ve been and the stories that I tell,” Hennings said. “Being in the military is one of the reasons that has made me such an effective teacher.”
Being in the military not only provided Hennings with first-hand knowledge about the world, but it also made him realize the importance of diverse viewpoints.
“We’re all learning from each other because everybody has a different view,” Hennings said. “Everybody has a different perspective. So being able to hear a view or perspective that isn’t quite like yours kind of makes you think a little bit.”
As Teacher of the Year, Hennings hopes to use his platform to inspire others to teach and increase the number of perspectives in the classroom.
“We’ve just got to help find more men teachers and more African American teachers,” Hennings said. “That’s what’s near and dear to my heart.”
Hennings also hopes to recruit more veterans to the teaching profession. His goal is to diversity and grow the ranks of educators who are in the classroom and making a difference.
“We all remember our favorite teacher, the teacher that helped us out,” Hennings said. “So to have that type of impact on a student’s life, that’s amazing. “