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After 5 decades, teacher still loves classroom

February 06, 2000

Editor's Note: The Herald-Mail is featurng one high school teacher each month through May. The eight-part series highlights excellent educators on the first Monday of each month.

Wayne RinehartBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




Few teachers can boast that their career spans almost five decades, but Wayne Rinehart is not the bragging kind.

cont. from front page

The head of North Hagerstown High School's science department has spent 48 years as an educator. He has been a teacher, a guidance counselor, an assistant principal and a principal.

For the last 18 years, Rinehart has brought the force of physics to North High students. He taught the county's first technical physics class and developed its curriculum. Although his subject is somewhat advanced, his classes have few vacancies.

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But Rinehart, 69, isn't crowing about his career. "I think I'm an average teacher, to be honest," he said recently.

His principal, David Reeder, disagrees. "He's just a quality person all around," Reeder said of Rinehart. The principal said he often bounces ideas off the senior teacher and benefits from his wisdom.

"He is very caring and concerned about student welfare. He is a very good guy and a wonderful teacher," Reeder said.

Rinehart's career is remarkable for its length, its diversity and its origin. He grew up in rural isolation, about 10 miles outside of Aurora, W.Va., past the westernmost edge of Maryland.

School was never closed because of snow, he said. Buses stopped running when roads were closed and then Rinehart would walk. He had an intellectual curiosity from a young age.

He liked to read and enjoyed science experiments. "I mixed my share of gunpowder," he joked.

A dynamic Aurora High School administrator who also taught chemistry inspired Rinehart and influenced his future.

"I thought, 'This is what I'd like to do,' and it was the direction I set for myself," Rinehart said. "I didn't want to be a farmer."

Rinehart was valedictorian of his senior class. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school or attend college. He went to West Virginia Weslyan College and got a bachelor's degree in chemistry.

He was drafted in 1951 and spent two years in the Army medical corps, which took him to Japan and Korea. When he returned he earned a master's degree in secondary education from West Virginia University.

He got married at 23 and will soon celebrate 47 years with his wife, Winona. "I don't know that it's that much of an accomplishment," he said modestly. The couple have three children and eight grandchildren.

Rinehart taught in Garrett County (Md.) schools and later moved to Ohio. He worked in St. Paris, Urbana and Fort Loranie schools there before retiring at age 61. "My wife says I failed retirement," he said.

Working through a placement agency, he found the job at North High. Before he moved, Rinehart mostly taught chemistry. Since taking the position, he has grown to enjoy teaching physics more.

He is still driven by a thirst for knowledge and tries to instill that in his students. "I still like school. Learning is fun, really," he said. "When you can come to school, get paid for it and enjoy it, what's wrong with that?"

He has taken graduate courses at Ohio State University, Wright State University and South Carolina State University. He took an online class from Eastern Iowa State University. He studied meteorology at the University of Maryland and computer graphics at Mount Saint Mary's College.

An avid reader, Rinehart has tried to read two books every week for the last 40 years. He is running out of choices at the library, he said. At home he gardens and tends to 125 rose bushes his wife selected.

"She's the inspiration, I'm the perspiration," he said. "It's trite but true."

In class, Rinehart uses droll humor that bridges a wide generation gap. On Groundhog Day, he had drawn a chalk image of the famous forecaster on his blackboard. "Did you draw that gopher?" asked a girl.

"That's not a gopher," he protested in mock dismay. Another student asked how groundhogs became weather indicators. "I don't know," said the teacher. "I don't speak with groundhogs."

He also uses creative methods to convey difficult concepts. As the students were trying to convert an atomic mass unit to energy in joules, Rinehart produced a cup full of M&M candies. "I have here masses in a container," he said.

Rinehart said he uses students' own interests to engage them. At the start of a course, he asks them to write on index cards what they want to do in life. "I try to motivate by what students tell me they want to do," he said.

"It is the interaction, I think, that gets their interest. I try to tie in with what they already know." As Key Club adviser, he also emphasizes community service. "The students make the decisions, I just keep them out of trouble," he said. "I respect them and I hope they do the same for me."

After almost 50 years, teaching is second nature to Rinehart.

"I just do what I have become accustomed to doing," he said.

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