Sweet music: Hillsborough teacher wins state’s top honor
HILLSBOROUGH - As she walked through the hallway at Hillsborough-Deering High School on Monday, kids kept walking up to teacher Heidi Welch, throwing their arms around her and telling her they loved her and were proud of her, just as she has done for them for the last 14 years.
On Monday, Welch, the school's music teacher, was named New Hampshire's 2013 Teacher of the Year, and it's clear from the reaction of her students that the Department of Education made a good choice.
'I love Mrs. Welch,' said Quinten Sanchez, 16, a junior. 'She's such a great teacher.'
'She's exuberant in class, always looking for a way to have fun while still teaching,' said Michael Carter, 14, a freshman. 'I've only had her since the beginning of the year, but I can understand why everyone loves her.'
'She makes you feel comfortable, like we're one big family,' said sophomore Kiera Remillard, 15. 'If you need someone to talk to, you talk to Mrs. Welch.'
Welch, who grew up in Manchester and credits the music department at Central High School with providing her a foundation for success, said it's been a long, stressful, but ultimately wonderful road to being named Teacher of the Year by the Department of Education. She found out she was nominated for the award by a parent of one of her students in March, and over the course of the next few months underwent interviews, had a committee come observe her classroom, gave a speech, and filled out lots and lots of paperwork. But after her last contact with the Teacher of the Year committee in August, she stopped hearing from them and just assumed they had chosen somebody else.
On Friday, Principal Jim O'Rourke asked her to get the band ready because the superintendent wanted to hold an assembly Monday, and she suspected - but wouldn't let herself believe - that there was good news in store.
'I didn't know it was me until I saw the commissioner of education walk in, and then my husband and my son,' said Welch. 'Then I knew it was me.'
Welch said that winning the award is a testament to the idea that if kids can find a niche in their school, someone to inspire them, to make them feel like they're worthy, they can live their dreams the way she has.
'I want them to look at me, especially the kids in Manchester where I grew up, and know that if they work hard and get an education, they can do what they love to do every day of their lives,' Welch said.
The biggest obstacle kids have to success is feeling that they have no choices and nowhere to go, so Welch came into Hillsborough-Deering 14 years ago prepared to turn her classroom into a safe haven, a place where kids could come for support and strength and encouragement, and where they could learn to share those things with others.
'My classroom is my sanctuary, the place I love to be,' she said. 'And I want it to be that place for my students too.'
Principal Jim O'Rourke said that Welch 'has really shown us what it means to think outside the classroom, to embrace the school community as a whole, not just the students in our classes.
'Heidi has high expectations for every kid she interacts with, wherever she interacts with them whether it's in the hallway or at a football game,' O'Rourke said. 'And she hold herself to the same expectations she has for the kids.'
Welch is about to embark on what is expected to be a whirlwind year that will involve ceremonies, giving talks and speeches, and competing for the national Teacher of the Year award, and though she's excited about those things, she's nervous about making sure she can cover all bases, especially with her students.
Finalists for the New Hampshire Teacher of the Year include Gail Boucher, a third grade teacher at Auburn Village School, Deborah Dixon, an early intervention teacher for grades K-2 at Inter-Lakes Elementary School in Meredith, Margaret Horan, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Pine Tree Elementary School in Center Conway, and Ryan O'Connor, an American Literature teacher at Windham High School.