High school senior Hind Zeitohn arrived in Modesto, California from Syria two years ago. She nominated her government teacher, Christina Welch, for the Life Changer Award, saying, “She’s been there for me even when I lost hope in life.”
The Modesto Bee was on hand as Welch received the award at a Davis High School faculty meeting. The Life Changer Award is an initiative run by local members of the James Irvine Foundation’s New Leadership Network.
For the award, first-generation college students are asked to nominate an educator who has impacted their life. The award provides $500 for the winning educator and $500 for the student. Zeitohn was so appreciative of Welch’s contributions to her life and education that she asked that the full $1,000 be given directly to the teacher.
Zeitohn experienced difficult circumstances in her Syrian life. “We always had to stay in and not speak loud and not do anything, just do what we’re told to do and hope that’s going to be OK,” she said. Arriving in America, she was left with emotional scars that made it difficult to acclimate and live a normal life.
Welch took the opportunity to inspire, encourage, and set an example for Zeitohn. “When I saw how sweet she is and how warm of a heart she has, I started opening up to her about things I didn’t tell anybody, really, and tried to keep inside of me, ” Zeitohn added.
For her part, Welch says, “”If I’ve made a difference . . . I’ve given her a voice, and that’s what our kids need.” To know how to live as a student in the hectic, late-modern world is difficult, even if one is not an immigrant to a new country. Teachers, simply through their actions, love, and care can show students what a good life is like.
Welch is an example of the especially important role that teachers play in the lives of students like Zeitohn. Their influence is far from merely academic. Teachers demonstrate for students how to live in the world.
Part of living in our world is to have faith in those around us, and Welch has a deep faith in Zeitohn’s potential, predicting that, “She’s going to make a difference in this world. She’s going to be getting an award like this 20 years from now.”
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia fielded the School Cultures and Student Formation Project to find out what makes a difference in shaping the character of high school students across the United States. One of the important findings was the role of teachers like Welch. A teacher told field researcher and Notre Dame sociologist, Dr. David Sikkink, “You can talk all day long. If you don’t walk the walk, they’re not buying it and they know the difference.” Results from the full study are published in The Content of Their Character.
Zeitohn could tell the difference in Welch. The student best summed up her relationship with Welch by explaining that the teacher is the, “warm hug I get every cold morning, the home I can’t wait to go to, and the family I share my bad moments and accomplishments with.”
Every principal wants to know: How do you get and grow teachers like that? The answer has everything to do with school culture. The ASCD has published guidance for school leaders on the things that they can do to reshape school culture.
For further reading on CultureFeed