“My philosophy is that each kid in my classes is worth my time and effort,” said Mark Weinert, biology and chemistry teacher at Norwell High School (NHS). “I give them my best attention even if I don’t feel well or they don’t earn great grades.”
Weinert has taught biology and chemistry at NHS since 1988. Before that, his path to Wells County was circuitous as Weinert became a world-wide traveler.
A Fort Wayne native, Weinert graduated from South Side High School in 1978. After earning a secondary education degree from PU, he taught for a year at Zionsville, Indiana, then decided to join the Peace Corps. “I wanted adventure and to learn another language,” he said. “I also wanted to see what I could do to help people.”
Weinert’s education degree was welcomed by the world-wide program and he was assigned to teach at a middle school in the village of Djougou in western Africa for two years.
The national language in the area was French. Weinert didn’t know any French. Four months of immersion training in the language helped, but he often stayed up late many nights, practicing what he would say to his students the next day in French. “It was a trial by fire,” he said. “I’m really glad I didn’t know what I would have to do before I went or I might not have gone.”
During Weinert’s second year, he was assigned a different position, that of regional director of the World Food program with the United Nations. Weinert was stationed at the country of Benin, situated next to Nigeria in West Africa.
Weinert’s duties included coordinating area school lunch programs. “The school lunches cost the villagers the equivalence of five cents. They also were required to pay for tuition to the school and books, totaling $50 for each child per year. It may not sound like much to us, but the majority of people earned maybe $500 a year from agriculture. So it was 10 percent of their incomes. It was a sacrifice for the kids to attend.”
Knowing he was enabling students to receive a nutritious lunch that would aid them in learning was a blessing to Weinert, but after four years he was forced to return to the US, due to ill health.
Plagued with recurring bouts of malaria throughout his time in Africa, Weinert had no choice but to leave the country. Sadly, he had to leave behind certain people he had grown to love.
In July 1984 Weinert had married a daughter of the village high chief of the Bariba tribe. They had met during his first year in Africa at a social event in her village of Passar. “Every Saturday night the village where I lived held a dance at a club,” he said. “There was no electricity, so the club owner would crank up a generator and spin discs.”
He and Salamatou, the woman who would become Weinert’s wife, began to talk and soon, they fell in love. The Weinerts’ first child, Erica, was born in March 1985. Mark Weinert stayed in Africa until 1987.
Unable to support his new family, he returned alone to the US, thinking he would find a teaching job immediately and send for them. Unfortunately, he had to settle for substitute teaching for nearly two years before being hired in 1988 as a full-time teacher at NHS.
With funds saved, Weinert sent for his family in December 1989. His second daughter, Sidney, was born in the United States. Today, she is a freshman at IPFW.
Mark Weinert has not been back to Africa since 1993, but his wife returns to visit family every two years. They reside in Ft Wayne.
At NHS Weinert has mostly taught biology and chemistry. First year biology now is required to graduate from high school, which means Weinert typically has 25-30 students in each class. Another change in recent years is that students must complete first year chemistry to obtain the Core 40 qualification.
Weinert believes he does more than teach when he walks into a classroom. “At times I’m also easing them through difficult parts of their lives,” he said. “They are in the late adolescent years, which is a difficult time.”
Weinert sees the most challenging – and necessary — part of teaching as that of forming a relationship with students. “They learn best when we know something about them and they know something about me as a teacher,” he said. “It ties us together and helps them perform better.”
For his efforts Weinert was selected by the Wells County Chamber of Commerce as Wells County Teacher of the Year 2009.