This week is Catholic Schools Week, a nation-wide annual celebration of Catholic schools. While there is so much to celebrate as a teacher, I find this time of year to be somewhat challenging and thought-provoking. How can I, as a Catholic schoolteacher, help promote the mission and focus of our schools?
Since I teach theology, teaching Christian values and ideology naturally makes up my curriculum. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to grow. In an effort to motivate myself, and as a challenge to my fellow Catholic schoolteachers, I’ve comprised a list of ways to make our rich and beautiful Catholic faith become more alive in the classroom.
Make the Saints Tangible
We can all relate to the saint parades and celebration of feast days. It’s fairly commonplace for us teachers to recount the lives of these heroically virtuous people to our students, but if we are not careful such stories and festivities can quickly become the humdrum of teaching in a Catholic school. How we can so quickly forget the courage, fortitude and remarkable virtue these people had, equating their lives to the genre of tall tales?
Not only should we be sharing these stories with zeal and enthusiasm, but encouraging our students to strive for sainthood themselves. Yes, WE ARE ALL CALLED TO BE SAINTS! Saints are not an elitist class of God’s favorites, but a real and legitimate standard for each of us. So in addition to passing on their incredible stories, may we encourage our students to aim for this life of virtue and to become saints themselves.
These are the building blocks of our faith tradition and uniquely make us Catholic, yet we often find ourselves routinely attending weekly Mass because “that’s just what we do at Catholic schools.”
Weekly Mass and regular Confession are one of the finer job perks of teaching in a Catholic school. Think about it, we are getting paid to cultivate our own spiritual life (bonus). While our students may not appreciate this immense opportunity quite yet, it would be beneficial for them to witness our enthusiasm for participating in such privileges. So let’s make sure that we always appreciate this benefit to the fullest.
If Catholic schools primary mission is to simply cater to Catholic families and give them an alternate option for educating their children then we have drastically missed the point. Catholic schools should be a light within the wider community, promoting not only a great education, but also superior standards in all realms.
The reason the Church exists is to reach out and evangelize to all people…I’m not saying convert, but share with others the joy we have found by living a life in Christ and for one another. Subsequently then, evangelization needs to be a priority in our schools. If we as a Church are not evangelizing then what the heck are we doing!? Working out salvation for ourselves, yet failing to have any regard for our neighbor’s salvation? Catholic Schools Week should be another opportunity to remind ourselves that we have a responsibility to serve the larger communities around our schools. I suggest that we use the example of our Holy Father and do something this week to serve the poor.
This one always seems to be tricky for us Catholics. Your typical all-school prayer service, Stations of the Cross and prayer at the beginning of the day are well and good. It’s comforting to us… the bread and butter of the school day. Don’t get me wrong this is great, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that this is enough. Christ wants a personal and intimate relationship with each of us. He wants to know our joys, successes, hopes, dreams, fears and worries. He wants to know us deeply…and I’m going to step out on a limp and say it is difficult to cultivate such a relationship with a Hail Mary at the end of the day.
We need to support a personal prayer life among our students. Now as a teacher who is trying to do this within the classroom currently… I will be the first to say it isn’t easy. In fact sometimes it is downright uncomfortable (gasp), but regardless of what anyone says, I stand firm that this is the single most important thing I can do for my kids. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. My class spends five minutes twice a week in silence–yep, absolute silence. The kids can journal, read a spiritual book, or pray a decade of the rosary. It’s nothing phenomenal, but it’s a start. As I tell my students over and over, “At the end of your life Jesus does not care how well you knew all your religion facts, He cares that you had a relationship with Him.”
Now I’m not for a second trying to insinuate that I’ve got it all together (not even in the slightest). That being said, we as Catholic schoolteachers need to get our act together. How can we expect our students to have a deep, enriching and vibrant faith life if we ourselves don’t? I know everyone is trying their best to be good and decent people, but we need to up our game a little here folks. For starters, regardless of your faith background, students should see our enthusiasm for living a spiritual life. Rather than rolling our eyes and trying to squeeze in a prayer at the end of the day, students should see our passion and love of the faith. If our students can’t see why we buy into this whole Jesus thing, then why should they? Honestly, if you don’t really care whether your students immerse themselves into a life with Christ, then I don’t know why you are teaching at a Catholic school.
Last but definitely not least, EVERYTHING SHOULD BE CENTERED AROUND CHRIST. From our curriculum, to our room décor… everything should draw us back to Him. Hanging a crucifix up on the wall doesn’t make a Catholic school Catholic (it makes it a wall with a crucifix on it). A Catholic school should be a place where students, teachers and administration engross themselves into a life centered on Jesus, or at least a place where a student’s spiritual formation is just as important as their academic growth.
Have other ideas on how to make the faith come alive beyond Catholic Schools Week? Share them in the comments below.
Image credit: Christ the King Regional School