Tag: christian

14 Tips To Help Teachers Maintain The Beauty And Luster of  a Vocation as a Catholic School Teacher.

For the next month teachers and school leaders will be preparing to welcome young scholars and saints in formation at Catholic Schools throughout the country. Forming Saints and Scholars is hard work, I hope and pray that our Catholic school leaders and teachers will be rewarded greatly for the days and nights they spend toiling in the ministry I like to call Our Father’s Business.

 

Last week I had the opportunity to welcome new teachers to the to their ministry in a Catholic school  – many of them will be first time teachers. I 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 a  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 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.”

 

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 be sullied. While working at the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education Program I was often presented with opportunities to talk to new Catholic school teachers. Below are some of the thoughts I 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. I share them here today so that Catholic school leaders across the country can use as appropriate and share with new teachers.  Some of the thoughts might be good for veteran teachers to hear again as well.

 

  1. 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. 
  2. Be yourself. 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. 
  3. 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 time to learn. School leaders need to be supported not weakened by behavior which is destructive to the Catholic School community.
  4. 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.
  5. Be professional. 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.  
  6. 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!
  7. Don’t “go it alone.” Get to know all the teachers in your school and make friends with the cooks, custodians, aides, and secretaries. We are all formators of children, just each with a different role to play. 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.
  8. Dive in! Don’t be a person who clocks in at 7:30 and clocks out at 4 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.
  9. Consider your roll book a prayer book – Pray for your students and their families. Your most important work is to bring a piece of heaven into the classroom with you.
  10. Think before you speak; if you do, you won’t speak very often, for there is a great deal to think about in education. Have the courage to try something else if what you’re doing isn’t working.
  11. 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.
  12. 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!
  13. 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.
  14. Remember that a good day is not necessarily smooth, painless and hassle free.

 

Catholicism’s Impact on the History of Education

In today’s day and age, when it is easy to both take a Catholic education for granted, and, at the same time, potentially harbor feelings of persecution of faith in education, it is important to remember and appreciate the tumultuous history of public education and Catholic education.

While learning and passing on knowledge is intrinsically wired into the brain of all humankind, and there have been teachers and students as long as man has walked on this Earth, the history of formal education in the Western world is much shorter than the history of man, and it is firmly grounded, from the beginning, in Christianity.

Even in Ancient Rome, long considered the intellectual empire of education the pre-Middle Ages world, there is little record of anything indicating free and available education. Only the elite of Roman wealth and society could expect a complete education, and education in this time was seen as more of a status symbol of wealth and leisure time than it was as a practical concern. For a large portion of the Ancient World, literacy was reserved for religious scholars and scribes, and classes or schooling were largely absent. For years, those without wealth and status in cultures from from Israel to China primarily educated themselves by apprenticing in a trade or devoting themselves to religion. Prior to the Middle Ages, India had the most developed and publicly-available education from around 1500 BC to 600 BC, but as the caste system developed it became far more discriminatory.

It wasn’t until during the early Middle Ages that the monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church  became the centres of education and literacy. Evidence of classes and schools in monasteries as the forerunners to the later idea university can be found dated as far back as the early 6th century, a full century before Islam created The University of al-Qarawiyyin which is the oldest existing continually operated university in the world in the latter part of the 7th century.

Free education for the poor was officially mandated by the Church in 1179 when it decreed that every cathedral must assign a master to teach boys too poor to pay the regular fee; parishes and monasteries also established free schools teaching at least basic literacy skills. This was the basis from which all of modern education has sprung, world-wide.

The first American schools founded by the colonists in the 17th century are not actually the first American schools, as the history of Catholic education in the United States is actually older than the United States itself. Religious education was brought to these shores by Spanish missionaries accompanying explorers and conquistadors, and were followed shortly thereafter by French compeers.

Even though English Catholics founded Maryland as a Catholic colony in 1634, and most colonies were founded by Christians and Catholics seeking religious freedoms from the Anglican church, it took some time for Catholic education to take root widely. The end of the Revolutionary War saw the real growth of Catholic schools in America, with Georgetown University being founded in 1789, just a few short years later.

The Catholic education established in the United States saw hard times hard times and a simultaneous boom in the 1840’s when Horace Mann worked to create a statewide system of professional teachers and “common schools” rather than the private schools that had existed before. Mann believed that education should be available to all, and the movement quickly gained strength. Many states began passing “compulsory attendance” laws. No one person did more for public education in the minds of the American people.

However, Horace Mann was also a Presbyterian minister, was also establishing curriculum and ideology for these public schools that drastically shifted education towards a Protestant one, and required that the King James Bible be used in schools. Catholic teachers who refused to participating in the reading of the King James Bible were often dismissed from their teaching positions, and Catholic children in public schools were often bullied and shunned, Tensions built so high in the 1840’s that they began causing riots and violence, with the most severe being the May 3, 1844 riot in Philadelphia that destroyed dozens of Irish Catholic immigrant homes, with Catholic schools and churches being burned to the ground.

This tension against Catholicism in public education created a demand for private Catholic schools, and in 1852 the First Plenary Council of Baltimore urged every Catholic parish in the country to establish it’s own Catholic school for that very reason.

Growth of the Catholic school system grew until 1920, and then the growth became explosive, with an all-time high in the mid 60’s. The mid 1960’s saw 4.5 million elementary school students enrolled in private Catholic schools, with a further million in high-schools, which began a blossoming need for Catholic universities.

Though we are seeing a decline recently from the years that were the peak of enrollment, it is no doubt that Catholicism, and the drive to educate the world in faith and higher learning for centuries, has made our culture what it is today.

Catholic Education Available to All

From Vatican City, the Pope spoke on the current state of education. According to His Holiness, there is a current failure of the system in the way that schools interact with families and states that leads to a selective education of the wealthy or intelligent. He used the word “supermen” to describe the children that are lucky enough to come from the privileged background that allows for a non-secular education.

 

“Behind this, there is always the ghost of money. Always.” Pope Francis said of education. “It has become too selective and elitist. It seems that only those people or persons who are at a certain level or have a certain capacity have the right to an education.” (According to this article from US News, a year at the average Catholic primary school typically runs about $5,330. That number goes up to $9,790 for middle and high school. The average cost for one year of tuition at a Catholic college averages $26,300. The average Christian school, on average, cost $7,960 a year for an elementary student and $16,520 for a secondary student)

 

This statement took place in a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education and the 25th anniversary of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” St. John Paul II’s apostolic constitution on Catholic universities and was followed up with an off-the-cuff question and answer session taking questions from administrators and faculty

 

When asked what makes a school “truly Christian”, the pope responded saying that Christian education is not  just about providing catechesis, but also requires education in “human values”, especially the value of transcendence. Education that favors the tangible like test scores and profitability and ignores the spiritual dimension of existence is “the biggest crisis” in education. “We must prepare hearts so the Lord can manifest himself,” which requires an education that strives to reflect “the fullness of humanity that has this dimension of transcendence,” he said. Educators must work to restore the broken “educational alliance” that has a tendency to put profits before people. “This is a shameful global reality,” the Pope said. “It is a reality that leads us toward a human selectivity that, instead of bringing people together, it distances them; it distances the rich from the poor; it distances one culture from another.”

Educators, he continued, “are among the worst-paid workers: what does this mean? It means that the state simply has no interest. If it did, things wouldn’t go that way. The educational alliance is broken. And this is our job, to find new paths.”

 

The Pope called for people to educated the poor and the marginalized, even if that meant cutting staff or other expenses at some of their schools in wealthier neighborhoods. “They have something that youth from rich neighborhoods do not through no fault of their own, but it is a sociological reality: they have the experience of survival, of cruelty, of hunger, of injustice. They have a wounded humanity. And I think about the fact that our salvation comes from the wounds of a man injured on the cross.”

 

And the Pope isn’t wrong. Many college-prep Catholic high schools boast records of 99% of their students go on to college, which is an astounding fact that could change the future for a kid from an under-served community. The wealth of U.S. Catholics is documented by sociologists as rising all the time, and a lot of that affluence has been attributed to -at least in part- to Catholic education.

 

And this is not a new refrain that we are hearing, either. During an April 2008 visit to Washington, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged people to make schools accessible to all by opening our wallets and getting creative in how we finance schools: “It provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done in cooperation with the wider community to ensure that Catholic schools are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”

 

Catholic School Leaders and Boards – Who runs the school?

archdiocese-nycAs I work with Catholic Schools throughout the United States I am frequently presented with scenarios of conflict between school leaders and board members.  The dysfunction in such a relationship can be destructive to the Faith community we call the Catholic school. In the article below, I attempt to articulate the primary roles, responsibilities and focus of the Chief administrator of a Catholic School, or a Catholic School system and the Governing Board. It is my hope that it will be used widely to clarify roles and responsibilities before the scenarios of conflict emerge.

For most Catholic schools, the school Board exists primarily to formulate policy and give strategic direction to the school (i.e., plan). The Board is charged with furthering the school’s mission and ensuring the school’s success. The Board’s core activity is planning, and the Board’s primary constituency is not today’s students but the students of the future.

The 8 minimal functions of a Catholic school Board includes:

1. Developing a strategic plan

 2. Policy development

3. Hiring the chief administrator

 4. Approving an annual budget

5. Overseeing financial accountability

6. Establishing just compensation for employees

7. Set tuition

8. Ensuring that in broad terms the school is fulfilling its mission.

 

Thank you for reading!

Steve Virgadamo

Catholic Schools and the Value Proposition

steve-virgadamo-catholic-schoolsEveryone loves a great value – a penny saved is a penny earned after all. Value looks like many things to a lot of people, but what each has in common with the next is that they over deliver where it counts.

As the new school year approaches, it is important for Catholic school leaders to examine and articulate the value proposition for the parents served, the Catholic community and the faculty/staff who partner in ministry.

In its simplest terms, a value proposition is a positioning statement that explains what benefit you provide for who and how you do it uniquely well. It describes the problem you solve, and why you’re distinctly better than the alternatives.

Catholic schools provide a reasonably priced educational alternative with exemplary results in student’s academic performance and focus not just on preparing students for college, but also heaven.

As some say, “the proof is in the pudding.”

Catholic school graduates:

  • Lead the nation in post secondary achievement;
  • Pursue a rich variety of college majors;
  • Enroll in some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the world;
  • Pursue healthy adult lives;
  • Place a higher priority on family values, worship and community service.

So when a parent asks you why should I send my child to a Catholic school – What will you say? How will you describe the value proposition? Can you do so in an elevator speech – 30 seconds or less?

And, as you begin the new academic year are you, your faculty and staff committed to over delivering in the classroom for students and prepared to exceed each parent’s expectations. For these are the things that will make every parent consider the Catholic education received by their child at your school as PRICELESS.

Thank you for reading,

Steve Virgadamo