For Catherine Pinkston, a decade of work as a juvenile court counselor seemed like too little, too late for troubled young people.
Often working in collaboration with public school teachers and administrators to help probationers succeed, Pinkston discovered a link between many youth drawn to criminal actions and an academic designation of “Exceptional Child.”
Pinkston began her teaching career at Sycamore Lane Middle School and for the last seven years has taught autistic students in grades two through five at North Laurinburg Elementary.
“Our class is really like any class,” Pinkston said. “In the beginning we have to kind of build relationships between myself and the kids and between the kids themselves. Some children can be older, but their abilities may still be lower, so I use the Common Core curriculum like everybody else and I have to spread that curriculum across all the grade levels, but mostly I have to meet the kids’ needs where they are.”
Pinkston was recently named North Laurinburg’s 2013-2014 Teacher of the Year, and is one of two finalists for the countywide title. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from UNC-Pembroke and has received further education in K-12 special education from UNC-Pembroke and Fayetteville State University.
Apart from electives like music and physical education, Pinkston is her students’ sole teacher, teaching English and language arts in the morning and math and science in the afternoon. Even as they move through the grade levels, some of her students remain in Pinkston’s class for three or four years, giving her the opportunity to interact with each student based upon his or her individual learning style.
“Throughout the day, because of the needs of some of my students, we’re constantly working on social behaviours: acceptable behavior, control, motivation,” she said. “Communication is another big issues for our kids: how I present the lesson, how I allow them to respond. Some of them might not answer the way you and I might answer. Some may be nonverbal and have other methods of communication.”
North Laurinburg principal Rodney Byers describes Pinkston as a “driving force” within the school.
“She’s great with her kids and the staff recognizes that she goes over and above for her students,” said Byers. “She makes sure that they’re always involved in anything the school is doing, any type of program or awards ceremony that we do.”
Byers also praised Pinkston’s record of students who have successfully transitioned to traditional classrooms.
“Ms. Pinkston has also been instrumental in making sure that students are mainstreamed,” he said. “As we speak we have one third grade student that is mainstreamed into a first grade class, and another third grade student mainstreamed into a second grade class, and Ms. Pinkston has one fourth grade student mainstreamed in a fifth grade reading class.”
Though major breakthroughs, such as a student learning the concept of subtraction after a long struggle, may be few and far between, Pinkston’s students’ daily progress is equally rewarding for her.
“I can honestly say that amazing things tend to occur every day,” she said. “It might be a small milestone, but almost daily I’m impressed and motivated because sometimes just coming to school is a struggle, so it’s amazing when everybody’s there and everybody’s putting forth their level of effort and doing their best.”
On being voted North Laurinburg’s Teacher of the Year and her selection as one of the county finalists, Pinkston called the process “humbling.”
“I would like to think that when I go to work I do the very best I can, but to be recognized by other people who are also doing a great job and working to care for the social and academic well-being of Scotland County’s kids, that’s pretty surreal,” she said.