10 Thoughts for Catholic School Teachers
“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Pope St. Paul VI)
Here are ten “take-aways” from a presentation that I recently gave to a small group of teachers from Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Washington. As a veteran teacher, in my thirteenth year of teaching theology and Spanish at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, I wanted to impart some inspiration to my fellow Catholic school educators.
(1) Jesus is the primary teacher in all of our Catholic schools. All employees are ultimately subordinate to him and his will. If not for him, we would not be in our particular Catholic school, since it would not be there. There is actually joy and enduring consolation in recognizing this, since the Church has a Messiah, and we are not him.
(2) It is a blessed privilege to have faith-based conversations that we could not have in other educational settings. There are so many opportunities to share the Lord with our students, and we cannot let them pass by. Every day presents new chances to share the Good News, so that our students can do likewise both before and after they graduate.
(3) Teachers in content areas beyond theology make a significant impact on students’ spiritual lives. If a theology teacher says it, there is an attitude of “of course he has to talk about God – he’s a theology teacher.” However, when faculty in other content areas (as well as staff, administrators and coaches) talk about God, it can be tremendously effective in reinforcing for our students what they are learning in theology class.
(4) Prayer at the start of every class period is vital. It is the single most important segment of class! After all, if we are not talking and listening to God in order to better our relationship with both him and all of humanity, what is the end goal of what we are learning? It is painful to hear that there are classes that feature no prayer. This is a golden opportunity to center our students’ priorities. On that note, the Mass forms the single most important activity of any Catholic school, since the Holy Eucharist is proclaimed throughout the Church as “the source and summit of the Christian life.”
(5) Catholic educators should ensure that what we teach, profess, and live – both inside and outside of school – is ultimately in accord with Church teaching (especially in the realms of morality and Catholic social teaching), in order to fend off a counter-witness to students. Inclusion always comes with a challenge, since no one is ever “done” seeking holiness in our personal lives. Society changes, yet the Gospel does not. Be a courageous witness!
(6) There is so much good spiritual reading in the Catholic tradition — with the Bible, of course, being the most foundational. Read the manifold writings of our many saintly men and women spanning two thousand years. In terms of Catholic education, the language of faith can and must complement secular buzzwords; the Church has been in the field of education for a very long time, and there is a reason that Catholic schools “work.”
(7) Know about the beautiful balance of science, faith, and reason. Our students cannot go into college unaware of the complementary equilibrium between science, faith and reason, lest their Christian ideals and formation be disregarded and cast aside as an anachronism. As the famous saying goes, “Truth does not contradict truth!”
(8) Do you know your subject area’s patron saint? There is likely at least one, if not more. Get to know him or her, to better help you perform your formative day-to-day tasks in your Catholic school.
(9) Love your students first, and teach and correct them only second. Our students are human beings first, learners second, and commodities never. We are in not the business, but the service, of forming current disciples and future saints, and if we are not forming them, we are eventually deforming them. How would Jesus teach?
(10) In sum, would the Lord God know that he is “known, loved, and served” (quoting Blessed Basile Moreau, C.S.C., founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross) if he were to enter your Catholic school community for a site visit, à la television program “Undercover Boss”? Catholic identity – both the visible and invisible – is always checked for, but never checked off.
Ultimately, educating according to Catholic principles is both fueled by joy and results in joy: “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (John 15:8-12).