By next week, every Catholic school in the United States will be open and thousands of Catholic school teachers will renew their commitment to preparing students for not just College, but heaven as well.
Last week Steven Virgadamo had the opportunity to welcome new teachers to the Archdiocese of New York – many of them are first time teachers. He spoke to them about the Trinitarian aspects of a Catholic School and how successful Catholic schools are about relationships – relationships – relationships. By the time the day was done, the cohort of new teachers adopted the mantra of “Not Under my Watch.” Imagine several hundred new Catholic school teachers being asked:
- Will it be said that in your classroom children were denied an opportunity to encounter the Risen Christ?
- Will it be said that the test scores of your children declined during the 2015-2016 school year?
- Will students in your classroom withdraw from the school because parents are dissatisfied with your willingness to partner with them on behalf of their child’s education?
And all responding with an unequivocal – “Not Under My Watch.”
Virgadamo said, “Teaching is a noble profession! Nobility includes in its meaning the very notion of beautiful. Therefore, noble work is beautiful work. But what is beautiful can sometimes be sullied.” While working at the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education Program Steve Virgadamo was often presented with opportunities to talk to new Catholic school teachers. Below are some of the thoughts he would share with them in an attempt to help each new teacher maintain the beauty and luster of his/her own vocation as a Catholic school teacher. We provide you with them today as a resource for every Catholic school teacher and hope Catholic school leaders across the country will consider sharing with their new teachers. Some of the thoughts might be good for veteran teachers to hear again as well.
Stay close to the Lord
Throughout your career, you will experience crises of confidence, exasperation, frustration, unreasonable parents, troubled students, bad classes, poor liturgies. You will be misquoted, misrepresented and for some periods of time, mistrusted. But you will also get the unparalleled gift to see the world with wonder again, through the eyes of young people. You will be made a confidante by a young person seeking advice, feel the joy of a weak student who does well on an assignment, cheer for your students in athletic contests, beam with a near parents’ pride as your students graduate. To keep yourself rooted, to keep your ideas fresh, to be the kind of faithful person our young people need to see firsthand, stay close to the Lord, both in your daily prayer and in the reception of the sacraments. If you do, the Lord will bless you in your work and you will go to bed each night exhausted, but with a smile on your face.
If you’re young, you’ve probably never been called Mister Jones or Miss Smith, and that will take some getting used to. But you can be yourself within this role. I have never agreed with the maxim “Don’t let them see you smile until Thanksgiving.” The fact is, students respond better to authenticity. It’s OK to laugh at something the students say which is amusing—in fact, it’s quite disarming to them. It’s OK to let the students see you having fun.
Admit your mistakes and learn from them
Zero in on your strengths, not your weaknesses. (Remember — nobody’s perfect!) Principals also suffer from human frailty and need to learn from experiences. School leaders need to be supported not weakened by gossip and other toxic behavior which is destructive to the Catholic School community.
Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about the students
So learn how to spell the word “concupiscence”. Concupiscence is a tendency to put yourself first. Only divine grace enables us to rise above it. But unless you declare war on it, you are bound to succumb to the illusion that teaching is all about you.
Model desired attitudes and behavior. Make sure you dress in professional attire. Remember that you teach students first, and then you teach whatever academic discipline you learned. You are a role model for the children and partner with the parents in the formation of each child.
Empower your students and engage them in the teaching/learning process
Listen — both to what the kids are saying and to what they’re not saying.Make sure that assessments are frequent and fair, that work is graded in a timely fashion, and that classes are well prepared and taught from beginning to end – every minute matters.
Don’t “go it alone”
Get to know all the teachers in your school and make friends with the cafeteria staff, custodians, aides, and secretaries. We are all formators of children, just each with a different role to play in that formative process. Volunteer to share projects and ideas, and don’t be afraid to ask others to share their ideas with you. Understand that the learning process involves everyone — teachers, students, colleagues, and parents — and get everyone involved. Seek the advice of your colleagues, share your frustrations with them, and ask questions. Remember we are promised that whenever two or more are gathered in His name that he will be with us to enlighten and guide us.
Jump in with both feet!
Some classrooms don’t have walls. So, don’t be a person who clocks in at 7:30 and clocks out at 3 each day. Come to afterschool activities. Nothing connects you with your students faster than to be able to say “Nice hit,” or “great singing,” or “I was impressed with your artwork at the show.” You can’t be at everything; but make a point some days to just stop in at after school care to say hello. You’ll see kids in a whole new light, and I think you’ll enjoy it, too.
Pray for your students and their families
Your most important work is to bring a piece of heaven into the classroom with you.
Think before you speak
if you do, you won’t speak very often, for there is a great deal to think about in education.
Let the data guide your decision making and instructional strategies
Have the courage to try something else if what you’re doing isn’t working.
Thirty plus years from now, your students will not remember all that you taught them, but they will remember who you were and how you treated them
You have a choice to become a minister of justice or an angel of peace. Be an angel of peace.
Keep a journal and take pictures
Some highly regarded Catholic school teachers share excerpts from their journal and images from the week with parents in a weekly email blast.
Remember that a good day is not necessarily smooth, painless and hassle free and that all the knowledge we give our students is in vain if they receive it without knowing they are good and loved by God
Each day is an opportunity to channel the divine love. Don’t waste an opportunity to do so. Every minute counts!
For many years Steve Virgadamo has provided thought leadership to Church leaders, Trustees and Board members. His expert counsel over many years has led to many Bishops, Chief Finance Officers, Superintendents, Pastors and Principals to consider him to be the expert in both Church and school management and the most premier consultant for Catholic schools, colleges and universities. He travels throughout the United States and internationally to mentor and teach school leaders, teachers, pastors, and more. His domestic and international reputation has led to Steven’s selection as a delegate for the World Congress on Catholic Education sponsored by the Congregation of Catholic Education.