Skip to main content
Best Bets

‘I Just Want Them to Think.’

Air Force veteran builds connections with students in a second career as a high school teacher.

Photograph courtesy of Wake County Public School System

As a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Terry Hennings ’15 MED was accustomed to people doing what they were told, no questions asked. So it was somewhat unsettling when he started his second career, as a high school teacher, and students didn’t hesitate to question what he told them. “They would ask, ‘Why are we doing this?’” Hennings recalls.

But engagement with students was part of what Hennings, 53, was looking for when he became a teacher at Garner (N.C.) Magnet High School. “I remember the teachers who had time for me,” Hennings says. “So even though I know the kids can be inquisitive, and sometimes push the boundaries, once I make a connection with them, then I’ve got them.”

Once I make a connection with them, then I’ve got them.

Enlisting in the Air Force straight out of high school, Hennings was eager to see the world and experience something beyond his home in rural west Tennessee. He became a medic and loved everything about a military career that took him to places like Germany, Turkey and England. “I re-enlisted five times because of what the military stood for,” he says. “I loved being able to serve my country.”

Hennings also loves history and relishes the time he spent in Europe exploring sites he had read about in books. He enjoys reading about historical figures, especially those who were willing to take a stand for change. That passion — combined with his desire to serve as a role model for students — led him to become a teacher when he retired as a senior master sergeant.

Garner Magnet High School hired Hennings in 2017 to teach U.S. History and Civics. In 2023, he was recognized as the Wake County (N.C.) Public School System Teacher of the Year. It was an occasion for Hennings, who now teaches Civic Literacy and African American Studies, to reflect on what he treasures most about teaching:

“When kids leave my class talking about what we discussed. When they are sharing their ideas and their beliefs with each other, and talking about it civilly. It’s not about me changing their way of thought. I just want them to think.”

Leave a Response

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.