Lessons From a Computer Analyst-Turned-Catholic School Teacher
“Live the Gospel every day. You may be the only Gospel that another person encounters that day.” — My father, who would often say this at the dinner table.
It has been eight years since I left a lucrative career as a computer and business consultant to start teaching at a Catholic high school. I left my former career for essentially two reasons: While I enjoyed what I did, there was only so much satisfaction to be gained from making companies more profitable, and, as a product of Catholic education, I believed God was calling me to do more with my talents.
As I started my career in teaching, one of my goals was to take some of the best business practices I knew and implement them in my classroom. I wanted learning to be fun, rigorous and engaging. However, I brought a focus learned in the trenches of competitive private industry: Provide excellent service, be open to customer feedback, use technology to gain advantages and reward innovation. Most importantly, know who you are and focus on your core mission.
This is not to say that was my only focus. I had grown up as a product of Catholic schools and held a special affinity and devotion to our Catholic saints. St. Francis of Assisi always inspired me because of his love for the Gospel. I started my journey as a Catholic educator believing that Catholic education was and is a unique source of goodness in our world.
After eight years of teaching, I wanted to share what I have learned, with the hope that it will inspire others who may find it worthwhile. At my core, I am a strong proponent that Catholic education must be constantly reinvigorated throughout our society. Here are my thoughts and the effects I have witnessed.
The Gospel Needs to Be Proclaimed Clearly in Every Catholic School.
Every class of mine begins with a student reading that day’s Gospel to the class. While our world today bombards children with all types of competing philosophies, the principal focus of Catholic education must begin and end with the student’s encounter with Jesus Christ, becoming followers of him and bringing his Good News to the world.
The word of God has a unique power to touch every human heart because, when we listen intently, we hear the Teacher of all good teach truth to us.
Teachers Mold Not Only Minds But Character Too.
Young people today are yearning for good role models. The teacher is, in many ways, the first role model outside of their families whom many students meet. The “soft skills” that most employers crave — a firm handshake, good eye contact, honesty and good interpersonal skills — are all based in whole or in part on good character. Catholic schools provide an invaluable service to our culture by teaching and promoting character development. While it may not be fun, correction makes our world a better place.
Competitions Build Student Confidence and Résumés.
One idea that Catholic education fosters is that we all should strive for excellence in our lives. Whatever we do, we should do it well. I encourage this by having students join national and state competitions and by hosting challenges in our school. In one year, students joined MIT’s Zero Robotics competition (which allows finalists to send computer code to real satellites on the International Space Station) and the Sea Perch National Challenge (a national underwater robot contest). I moderated a bridge-design contest for eighth-graders, and the finals of our Rubik’s Cube-solving contest were held at our fall pep rally, where the winner did a look-away move while solving the last block, which brought enthusiastic screams from the crowd. There are many competitions, held for practically any academic subject, that, if joined, have an additional benefit: A college-admission officer admitted to me that a student who joins competitions demonstrates motivation and distinguishes him or herself by just listing these pursuits on a college application.
Guest Speakers Bring Excitement to the Classroom.
One of the best things about Catholic education is that we try to help students discover their own unique, God-given talents. While I would like to think that my students love hearing me talk every day, who wouldn’t like a change once in awhile? I’ve found that guest speakers can motivate students in ways that I, perhaps, cannot. These are a few of the speakers who have dropped by for a presentation in my classroom: an expert on drones, who flew his aerial device around our school’s football field and explained how the “yellow line” in a football broadcast is created; a robot builder’s club enthusiast, who demonstrated how his replica Star Wars R2D2 was built; and even a successful businessman, who explained why it was so important to make a good first impression. Being exposed to different intellectual ideas presented by outsiders helps everyone grow.
Field Trips and Partnerships Add Value.
There’s more to the world than just our little corner. That’s why everyone usually remembers a field trip he or she went on as a child. Because I teach programming and engineering, when I propose field trips to outside entities, they usually readily invite us. My classes have visited the U.S. Naval Academy, sport stadiums and even Google’s New York office. I have heard multiple times from our hosts that Catholic students make an excellent impression because they are well-behaved. We have always been invited back and have had further internships offered to our students because of the original trip.
Joy Says More Than 1,000 Words.
When you’re around students, you realize they get excited about life and learning because it has a freshness to it. As I try to explain to my students, the way to hold onto that joy is by living the way God wants and by trying to find and fulfill your purpose. When we all do that, its gives joy and meaning to our lives that the world cannot give. Hopefully, that is one of the underlying messages that students take away from Catholic schools.
Gospel Values + Inspired Learning = Enrollment Increase.
While I have only been teaching eight years, I see some definite trends: Enrollment has increased in my classes every year. This year, I have students from China who I am advising. What has brought me the most joy, however, is testimonies like one from a father who recently told me that his two sons, who I have had in class, now discuss at the dinner table what Gospel verse they will use as their yearbook photo caption. That’s the real beauty of Catholic education.
George T. Kapusinski writes from Baltimore,
where he teaches computer science and robotics
at Mount St. Joseph High School.