Although I like to take time on Labour Day weekend to look back at the blessings that summer vacation has brought: a new puppy to our family, Michael’s week at Totus Tuus, and the many hours spent together as a family; I also like to use the week and days leading up to a new school year to reflect on the possibilities that lie ahead to set myself a goal as a Catholic teacher.
This year I would like to make the Catholic Education in my classroom just that, more Catholic.
I came to this decision for a number of reasons and from a number of different angles.
Firstly, Pope Benedict has declared this to be the Year of Faith for the Catholic Church starting in October 2012. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the Year of Faith than by deepening my own faith and helping others to deepen their own. Of course this is a part of my job description as a Catholic Educator, but a lot of times faith takes a backseat to curriculum in my classroom.
Secondly, one of the instructors from my summer course on religious education directly challenged us to put into words how our Catholic classrooms are different from the classrooms of the public school across the street. When it comes right down to defending Catholic education, he told us, this would be the question posed in court – how are Catholic schools (and their classrooms) different. Many of my colleagues would begin to talk of Gospel values and social justice, but I fear that our public counterparts would be able to make the same claims under citizenship and moral ethics. In my History and Geography classroom I want to teach Catholicism from its core so my students can articulate what Catholic teachings are founded on and where Catholic teachings can take us to make a better society for everyone.
Thirdly, I had the wonderful opportunity this past summer to meet with Cardinal Archbishop Collins of Toronto. His Eminence was so gracious in his demeanour and so passionate about Catholic education that I couldn’t help but be moved by the same passion to infuse my Catholic classroom with faith.
Finally, publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario seems to be under attack more now than ever before. With our provincial government braying for cutbacks to public education expenses, one of the first items on many cost-effective lists is the amalgamation of Catholic school boards with their public (secular) counterparts. Yes, duplicity does seem unnecessarily expensive on the surface, but at what cost to the moral fabric of society by removing Catholic teaching out of the public forum (here it seems as though I return to my second argument – we need to show how Catholic education is not only different, but beneficial). This will be all the more important in Ontario Catholic schools this year as Gay-Straight Alliances promise to make their appearance in our schools and Catholic teaching will come under direct media scrutiny.
What do I propose to do?
I know I cannot change the system, nor my style, overnight and that baby steps are needed. I hope to make signs of our Catholic faith more visible in my classroom. I’m also re-inventing some of my assignments to reflect Catholic social teachings, their history and their guiding principles. For example, when we study the development of the social movement in Canada (workers’ rights, women’s suffrage, etc.) or the unequal distribution of global wealth, I want to challenge my students to find what the Catholic Church teaches on these subjects through papal encyclicals. I also intend on becoming more involved in the chaplaincy program at school with the goal of helping increase a sense of the sacred for my students – taking Catholicism beyond simple social justice.
Will I be a roaring success in changing the tone of Catholic education? I hope so, but I doubt it. I know that there will be times when I succeed, but there will also be times when I fail in the knowledge and courage needed to carry out God’s calling as a Catholic teacher. It’s for those times when I falter that I ask you to pray for me and the students entrusted to my care.