May 17, 2013

Connecting faith and teaching

Saint Theodora Guérin excellence in Education Award winner goes the extra mile for students

Scott Hutchins’ ability to connect living the Catholic faith to the teaching of chemistry is just one of the reasons the teacher-coach-administrator was chosen as this year’s Saint Theodora Guérin Excellence in Education Award recipient among the 2,200 educators in the archdiocese. (Submitted photo)

Scott Hutchins’ ability to connect living the Catholic faith to the teaching of chemistry is just one of the reasons the teacher-coach-administrator was chosen as this year’s Saint Theodora Guérin Excellence in Education Award recipient among the 2,200 educators in the archdiocese. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The choice could have been a difficult one—especially for someone who strives to give his best to the students he teaches and the athletes he coaches.

As the assistant coach for the boys’ varsity baseball team at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville, Scott Hutchins knew that the game against rival Trinity High School in Louisville was a big one.

On the same evening as the game, Hutchins also knew that one of his chemistry students—an excellent student who participated in volleyball, swimming and softball for the school—was being honored in Indianapolis with a scholarship from the Indiana High School Athletic Association.

So a choice had to be made by Hutchins—this year’s recipient of the Saint Theodora Guérin Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for a Catholic educator in the archdiocese. (Related: Finalists for teaching honor come from throughout the archdiocese)

“I never gave it a second thought,” Hutchins recalled. “I was fortunate to teach Maria Cochran for two years. She was everything that is good about Providence. It was a big game against a rival school, but I wanted to let her know how much I cared. That’s something I want all my students to know—how much I care about them. I really don’t think I went above and beyond to be there.”

Maria’s mom offers a different perspective.

“My daughter was thrilled when she saw Mr. Hutchins walk through the door,” noted Mary Beth Cochran. “She was not expecting anyone from Providence, but she said she was not at all surprised that he would do that for her. I will never forget the extra mile he went for my daughter. He has done this for many, many children at Providence.”

Connecting faith and teaching

It is humbling for Hutchins to consider that he has been chosen as the best educator in the archdiocese, which includes more than 2,200 teachers in 68 schools.

Hutchins insists there are better teachers than him at Providence. Still, when the honor was presented to him in front of the Providence school community, it was obvious from the reaction how much everyone celebrated the choice.

“I was privileged to attend the celebration,” says Rob Rash, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese. “Seeing the Providence students stand up and cheer for their teacher was moving. You could see by the faces of his students that Scott embodies Catholic education.”

While Hutchins is often applauded for using the latest technology to teach his students, his emphasis on connecting the principles of faith to the study of science is where he excels, according to Providence’s president Joan Hurley.

“In his science classroom, you will find posters about Catholic scientists throughout history,” Hurley notes. “These silent witnesses of the Church and its contribution to science create the backdrop for—and the lens through—which Scott brings to life the subject matter.

“Scott’s ability to show his students how the teachings of the Church apply to science and life itself is such a blessing to this school and our Catholic community.”

The connection between teaching and faith rests upon two beliefs for Hutchins.

“First, I believe that quality education is about instilling a love of faith and learning that will serve to enhance a student’s life,” says Hutchins, who is married with two young sons.

“I tell my students that solving chemistry problems is not really all that my class is about. I want my students to take the problem-solving skills learned in my class and apply them to all aspects of their lives, so that they are able to make logical and well-informed decisions grounded in their Catholic faith.”

His second emphasis is on treating and teaching each student as an individual.

“While the classroom may be filled with 20 or more students, I believe it’s important to make each one feel as though he or she is the most important person in the school,” says Hutchins, who is 39. “I try very hard to develop personal relationships with all students. I do this by attending their extracurricular activities, asking about their interests outside of school and—more than anything—just letting them know that I care about them.

“Once I have earned a student’s trust, I can then get him or her to do tremendous work in the classroom.”

The joy of ‘seeing kids succeed’

Hutchins views everything he does at Providence—as a teacher, coach and assistant principal-director of students—as a way of giving back for the great experience he had as a student in his 12 years of Catholic education.

“What inspired me to be a teacher was my experience in Catholic education. All the way from first grade to 12th grade, I just had a great experience,” says Hutchins, a 1987 graduate of St. Anthony of Padua School in Clarksville and a 1991 graduate of Providence.

“When I got to be a senior in high school, I didn’t want to leave that environment. Looking back now, I see my teaching as an opportunity to give back for what was given to me in my 12 years.”

Hutchins’ main motivation as an educator—“seeing kids succeed”—is also tied to his experience as a Catholic school student.

“My favorite moments in the classroom are when the kid is successful, from something as big as doing well on a test to something as small as them getting a concept—‘Hey, I get this, and I’m good at this,’—and there’s a big smile on their face,” Hutchins notes. “That stands out to me because it’s a part of developing their self-confidence. There’s no better feeling as a teacher for me—because I was that kid in school.”

Hutchins recalls a defining moment when he was a high school freshman and his guidance counselor was Father Michael Hilderbrand, who is now the pastor of the parish where Hutchins is a member, St. Mary-of-the-Knobs in Floyd County.

“I remember telling him that I love baseball, but I wasn’t sure I was good enough to play in high school,” Hutchins recalls. “He encouraged me to play. It got me started with friends, and I played baseball for four years at Providence. I tell my students all the time that no one will have a better four years in high school than I did. The friends I had in high school are still my friends today.”

He never forgets how that moment of caring and encouragement shaped his high school years and his life. He strives to offer those same gifts to his students.

Asked to share one of his most rewarding teaching experiences, Hutchins recalls a thank-you letter he received from a student after the end of one school year.

“The letter began by thanking me for being such a good chemistry teacher,” he notes. “However, it was the second part of the letter that meant the most to me. The student recalled a time early in the year when she was having a rotten day and was really upset.

“She said it meant so much to her that I stopped her after class ended and sat down and talked to her about it. The one line in the letter that meant the most to me was, ‘I am sure that I will have other great teachers, but I don’t think I will ever have a teacher that will care about me as much as you did.’ ” †


Finalists for teaching honor come from throughout the archdiocese

Nine teachers became finalists for this year’s Saint Theodora Guérin Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for Catholic educators in the archdiocese.

The recipient of this year’s award is Scott Hutchins of Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis.

The other eight finalists were:

  • Kathleen Bear—Pope John XXIII School in Madison
  • Michelle Craney—St. Malachy School in Brownsburg
  • Connie Hessler—St. Jude School in Indianapolis
  • Susan Huber—St. Anthony of Padua School in Clarksville
  • Amber Roessler—St. Rose of Lima School in Franklin
  • Kristy Schwendenmann—St. Mary School in North Vernon
  • Gerard Striby—Roncalli High School in Indianapolis
  • Denise Wilson—St. Barnabas School in Indianapolis †

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