Joe Welch explains his philosophy on teaching with a simple story: He was walking along a Delaware beach this past summer with his daughter Julia, then 6, who was searching for seashells to put into the bucket he carried.
"She picks up one shell and shows it to me and I remember saying, 'That one has a hole in it. Why do you want that one?' And she said, 'Well, I can make an ornament out of it.' Another one was broken, and she said, 'I can make something out of it.' She kept putting these shells in, even a dirty one. 'That one's still beautiful,' she said.
"And just like that, she put it all into perspective," says Joe, also father to 4-year-old Noah. "Everybody comes with their own story. How often do you get that situation where somebody doesn't need help to be made into something better?"
Welch, of North Hills Middle School, is Pennsylvania's 2020 Teacher of the Year, nominated by fellow history teacher Larry Dorenkamp. A teacher in the North Hills School District for 13 years, Welch has a knack for engaging students in the classroom and on field trips, nudging them to learn by relating history to their lives, and making them care about the world around them.
He's in it 24/7, practicing lesson plans at home after school, often trying out ideas by rapping, which amuses his kids and his wife, Sarah. Last year, Joe was named National History Teacher of the Year.
He exemplifies the school district's motto of "pride, tradition and excellence," says Superintendent Patrick J. Mannarino. "This is an amazing accomplishment for Welch, and we thank him for representing our district with pride and for all he does for our students."
Welch humbly credits others — his father, Tom, who taught at North Hills before him, and Dorenkamp, a friend with whom he texts daily to test out ideas — with inspiring him to teach and helping him to grow in his career. He talks animatedly about his job, as if it really isn't a job but more a way to connect with people when they're young and, hopefully, as their life goes on.
Read the rest of this article on Pennsylvania's Teacher of the Year, which was featured in NEXT Pittsburgh.