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North Hills Monthly

NHSD’s Joe Welch Named Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year

Jan 27, 2020 02:28PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Joe Welch with one of his students.

Joe Welch never had a “Eureka!” moment when he suddenly realized that he wanted to be a teacher. He just always knew.

“My father was a teacher at North Hills and often as a child, I would come with him to his classroom and it was a really comfortable place to me,” Welch said. “I always thought, ‘I want to do this when I’m older.’”

Welch, 35, not only followed in his father’s footsteps—he did it very, very well. The 8th grade American History teacher at North Hills Middle School was recently selected as the 2020 Teacher of the Year for Pennsylvania.

Teaching is a family tradition for the Welch family. Not only did Welch become a teacher like his father, Tom, but his older siblings, Matt and Sarah, are also teachers. Matt teaches mathematics at Quaker Valley and Sarah teaches German for the Mt. Lebanon School District.

“I had such great role models in my family, but also my own wonderful teachers growing up in South Fayette. I always thought that I wanted to be like them,” Welch said.

The road to the Teacher of the Year award wasn't easy. After fellow teacher Larry Dorenkamp nominated him for the honor in late 2018, Welch had to complete an application process to get to the first round. Once he made it past that level, he had a phone interview and had to supply more materials, including references.

As the nominees were narrowed down, Welch had to create videos of himself teaching, and answer more questions. Finally, he was one of 12 finalists selected to attend the awards ceremony in Harrisburg, which was held last December at the SAS Institute, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s annual professional development conference. The Teacher of the Year program is co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania chapter of the National State Teacher of the Year.

“It was wonderful because I could take my family, a student and her family, and an administrator,” Welch said. His wife, Sarah, and their two children, Julia, 7, and Noah, 4, attended along with former student, Abriana Bensch, and her family.

“It was great to be able to share that experience with her,” Welch said.

The three-day event was a learning experience for Welch as finalists shared stories and classroom practices. Finally, after the yearlong process, Welch learned that he was the recipient of the award. The announcement was made by Pedro Rivera, Secretary of Education for Pennsylvania.

“All of the finalists were on stage when he made the announcement and I was just shocked, to be honest. It was overwhelming and instantly I was filled with a sense of pride, first for the North Hills School District and my students, and second, for my family,” Welch said.

It was also a reflective time for Welch. “It made me think about everyone who had taught me and all of my colleagues who helped me along the way,” he said.

The honor brings ongoing rewards, according to Welch, as he will make presentations throughout the year to various groups and conferences. He will also represent the state in the national award category.

It isn’t the first time that Welch has received a prestigious award, however. In 2018, he was selected National History Teacher of the Year.

“We’re thrilled to have the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year working alongside our students,” said North Hills School District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Mannarino. “This is an amazing accomplishment for Joe, and we thank him for representing our district with pride and for all he does for our students.”

The honor isn’t just his, Welch said.

“This fills me with a sense of pride for the North Hills School District,” he said. “This is a testament to a network of people—my family, my students and my colleagues who have all helped me grow and who continue to assist me.”