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Passion for middle grades teaching leads to national award for Holly Pinter

By Marlon W. MorganHolly Pinter 1

Holly Pinter (right) was recently recognized for her work at WCU and with the Catamount School.

As secretary of the National Association of Professors of Middle Level Education, Holly Pinter found herself furiously taking minutes and listening during a recent meeting when all of a sudden, something sounded all too familiar.

“I was like, ‘I think they’re talking about me,’“ Pinter said.

They were. They were describing this year’s winner of the organization’s National Middle Level Professor of the Year, which Pinter, an associate professor in Western Carolina University’s College of Education and Allied Professions, recently received.

Pinter, also a math teacher at the university’s laboratory school, the Catamount School, is the third professor from WCU to win the prestigious award. She joins CEAP’s dean, Kim Winter, and Dave Strahan, CEAP professor emeritus and former Taft B. Botner Distinguished Professor of Elementary and Middle Grades Education.

“I was incredibly humbled and honored to be recognized by colleagues that I really respect across the entire nation,” Pinter said. “I just have so much respect for the people that are in this organization. I really think my work with the Catamount School is probably what inspired the nomination. But for the last four years, that’s pretty much been all-consuming in my world. I’ve been sharing my research with this group for many years. I think they acknowledge and recognize the time commitment and the investment that that’s been on my part, and that feels really good because it really has been a huge part of my life.”

As an educator, Pinter helps prepare the next generation of middle level teachers with hands-on experience through her work at the Catamount School as a math teacher. This year, most of that work has come virtually because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

She has been involved with the Catamount School since its inception four years ago, serving twice as a fulltime math teacher.

“It’s the most magical thing I’ve ever done in my career,” Pinter said. “It’s been so powerful for my practice, both as a middle level teacher and a middle level pre-service educator. I think giving authentic experiences for our pre-service teachers to engage with kids early is a really unique opportunity for me.

“My colleagues in this organization have often called me crazy and brave because I’m in a really vulnerable position. I’m opening up to say, ‘Watch me teach and let’s critique it.’ I think it allows me model being a reflective practitioner. I think the pre-service teachers really appreciate that. I think our college students trust me more because they know I’m not just telling them is how it should be. They see me do it.”

The passion of teaching came honestly for Pinter, who received her bachelor’s degree from WCU in 2005 and her master’s degree in 2009, both in middle grades math education. One could say it’s in her blood. Her father, Bruce Henderson, retired from WCU last spring as a psychology professor after serving 42 years as a faculty member. Her sister, Heidi Buchanan, is a professor and research instruction librarian at Hunter Library.

“I didn’t deny it from an early age,” Pinter said. “I’m sure my family would’ve supported anything I wanted to do, but being a teacher was a natural fit for me from the beginning.

“Having a psychology professor as a dad, as an adult sometimes I think back and wonder how he was really addressing issues as a kid. Was I being psychoanalyzed a little bit? But it was great. Thanksgiving conversations are a lot of education talk. We have a great time thinking about education together. It’s fun.”

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