Jun 292014
 

Why I became a Catholic School Teacher

4th-grade-teacher

 

Children are images of God. While my Catholic faith has taught me that all of us are created as images of God, it was through the beauty and joy in the faces of young innocent children that I became introduced to this exciting and most important profession as a teacher. Just as recently as 18 months ago, I would have never dreamed that I would have just completed my very first year as a Fourth grade Catholic school teacher. The summer now affords me the time to reflect on why I am in this profession, what I have learned, what I have done, and what I will begin to do as I plan ahead for next year. I pray to God each day that I will never forget the love I have for the students I taught this year and that the Holy Spirit continues to ignite me with the fire and passion to mentor and teach future generations of Gods creation. Without the Holy Spirit I would not have a story to share about this vocation and highest calling to serve God. It is most personally fitting for me that I should choose Images of God as my very first post title. For one thing, this was the name of my school’s religion book that I used to teach two classes of 43, fourth grade children about their Catholic faith. But more importantly, the title explains how and why I gave up a 27-year career in the business world to become a school teacher in the first place. I could not begin to describe what resulted in such an abrupt and seemingly drastic career change without relating a story from a little over two years ago that completely changed my life and the way I look at children and the world in which we live. I was touched by God in a very dramatic way.

My Volunteer Job as a Catechism Teacher

Touched by God

In September of 2012, my wife and I began a volunteer Catechism teaching position to fourth graders of a local Catholic school. I have two sisters teaching full-time in the Catholic schools and a wife as a full time special-ed teacher in the public schools. We felt that this would be a good way for us to serve God and at the same time, hopefully give us a deeper appreciation and knowledge of our own Catholic faith. I do think there was another reason for this: I was never truly content or at peace in my own profession as a salesman in the corporate world of computers. Looking back, I really do think this was somewhat of a half-hearted attempt on my part to explore the possibility of teaching as a career, but it was by no means an idea that was in the forefront of my conscience. Giving up 90 minutes of our time on Sunday afternoons made us both feel good, but one day it rewarded me in a way I would have never imagined. While sitting at the dinner table having a cocktail with my wife I thought back to the classroom that day when the most vivid, colorful and beautiful image of the children were instantly etched into my mind like a raging fire. It was as if I was seeing these children through the eyes of Jesus. It brought me to tears. Feeling embarrassed as I tried to explain this vision to my wife, I was overcome with the intensity of Gods love and burning desire to show me how children are made in his own image. The feeling and intensity were so heavy that I felt as if I was being crushed and over-powered. I was no longer in control of my emotions. It was as heavy as if the world was sitting on my chest and I was nearly suffocating. I tried to push away to get some space and breathing room, but God would have none of it. The more I tried to push the vision aside, the more I realized Jesus was right there at the dinner table with me, squeezing every last tear from my body with his eternal embrace. While I was finally able to have a normal dinner, I was still not the same. I could no longer do anything without remembering what happened and re-living the moment where God was trying to change my life.

Touched? Or Tackled by God?

Now what do I do?

It seems so under-stated to me when I say that I was touched by God. It was more like being blind-sided, tackled and held hostage. There was nothing subtle about this. Of course, God would never hold any of us hostage as I will soon illustrate later on in my story. However, within my own closed-in world this was how I felt. God knows what’s best for our happiness and sometimes that means pushing us beyond our comfort zone to seek it. God was clearly sending me a message; one which required drastic action and change in my life. The reality, however, was that I had to go back to work the next day, doing something that I never really had a great passion to do these last 27 years. I had struggled for so long, but hadn’t realized I was my own worse enemy. I continued to look for jobs in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons. Based on the circumstances I’ve described and the title of this blog, Spirited Teaching, it might seem that becoming a teacher was the obvious response to God over-powering me that Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we put clumsy obstacles and irrational demands in front of our own best interests. For 27 years, I was a slave of things like money. With some encouragement from my two sisters and wife, the idea of teaching certainly crossed my mind, but how could I possibly survive on an entry level teacher’s salary? So, I continued to pray, beat around the bush and struggle at an unfruitful job in sales. The one thing that brought me over the edge and caused me to take action was my Catholic faith.

Putting my Trust in Jesus

Trust in JesusSeveral months later, I was listening carefully to the homilies at Mass and praying every day and night for a direction to take in response to God’s calling. I couldn’t help recognizing how the message, Trusting in Jesus, kept coming back to my mind every day. What does it really mean and would I ever have the courage to act upon that theme? One day at Mass I looked at the Divine Mercy of Jesus photo that was on the wall of our Church. I noticed and appreciated the way our Church had constructed a new and elaborate, wooden frame to make the picture prominently emphasized.  One day before Mass had started, I spotted a woman and daughter in front of me admiring the newly adorned painting. The way the Church decided to feature the Divine Mercy in such a noticeable way places special significant and importance of the painting’s message. I reflected upon that throughout Mass. I looked at Jesus and felt his patience and calling. I compared it to the not-so-subtle way he threw all his weight on me a few months earlier. This was Jesus, always patient and always loving, looking at me and asking me in a gentle way to put my trust in what he wants me to do. This was not Jesus holding me hostage, but a gentle reminder from an ever loving, merciful God who would never impose his will on me. I asked myself, what is lacking in my trust that would prevent me from serving God as a teacher? The obvious answer was, money; that’s it. Would I make enough to pay all of our bills? I began to think what little faith I had if that was the only thing keeping me from doing what God called me to do. That’s what it meant for me to put my trust in Jesus. I prayed about it and made a decision to pursue a teaching job through the alternative license teaching program. But, I knew that it couldn’t be just any teaching job.

Why a Catholic School Teacher?

Children are Images of God

Catholic SchoolI could have become a public school teacher through the alternative licensing program and made a significantly higher starting salary. I knew in my heart though that my desire to teach sprang from a reason which was far greater than just academics. More importantly, a public school position would not have satisfied my response to God’s calling. My encounter with God was meant to be shared and I think it is the cornerstone of my entire teaching philosophy: We are images of God and the face of these beautiful children during their simplistic, innocent ways is an illustration of this throughout each school day.  The faces and joyful activity of young children remind me of the happiness we are all intended to experience all of our lives. It reminds me of the way I felt that one Sunday afternoon nearly two years ago. Only by being perfect imitations of Jesus can we truly experience long-lasting happiness. In children, I see how fragile this happiness is while they develop into adulthood. Of course, fourth grade children are far from perfect and they are just entering an age where they are prone to the unhealthy influences of the outside world. What better time is there to impress upon them that they are made to be images of God?  In a Catholic school setting with our bible, textbooks, and Church, I have everything I could possibly want to serve God in the way he intended. My teaching of religion began with a brand new text book titled, Images of God. This title was a point that was continuously brought up throughout the many chapters of the book and the children understood this lesson well.

On the very first day of school I emphasized to all of the kids that their first and most important job at school was to serve God. When children misbehaved, I asked them if they were acting as Images of God. As they continue to be bombarded with the temptations and unhealthy habits of the secular world I want this to be a benchmark they can use for making good choices. While I recognize that there are many excellent Christian, public school teachers who are holy and serving God, it must be difficult for them to be quiet about impressing their faith upon the children they are teaching. I have been called to do just the opposite and that is the part I love about teaching at a Catholic school. I can be totally open about what and why I teach and make it how I teach. But, there is another reason.

Spreading the Truth about the Catholic Faith

Catholic ChurchOver the last several years I have become convinced that the fullness of God’s truth lies inside the Catholic Church. Earlier in my life, I spent the better part of a decade trying to disprove Catholic teaching. Through the process of my many arguments I kept getting proved wrong. So much of what I was told about Catholicism wasn’t true and I learned so many things that were true that I had never been told.  The more I learned the more I appreciated and the more I wanted to share the beauty and wisdom of God’s one, true, holy, universal. and apostolic Church.  In a world filled with unhealthy temptations it is very difficult for young people to learn how to make the right choice. The Catholic Church is right 100% of the time on social and moral issues and these things need to be taught to children at a young age. I was happy that our fourth grade text book, Images of God, dealt with serious issues of our day including divorce, abortion, and adultery. With so many children sadly living with divorced parents and split families these can be very sensitive issues, but 9 and 10 year old kids are ready to learn about them. Catholic teachers can make a real difference in the world for future generations. There is no higher calling.

One full Year as a Fourth Grade School Teacher

Reaping the Rewards

Images of GodThe decision to serve God is a choice of happiness. I remembered how I felt when I finally had my teacher’s contract in hand. It was a feeling of tremendous freedom. It was also an enlightening experience. I hadn’t realized how enslaved I had become to things I thought I wanted, but could never truly reward me with happiness: Money, career advancement, status, nice cars; none of those things mattered anymore. I could win the lottery today and instantly know that it wouldn’t change what I do for a vocation. Knowing that I will never again have to work for just money is the most empowering feeling I have ever known.

My first days of school included some anxiety because this was such a brand new world to me. Each day brought new experiences and with each new experience; new lessons and rewards.  Being a school teacher is the hardest job I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding. Business and sales simply don’t compare on any level. As a rookie I often felt as though I were George Plimpton, the journalist from the 1970’s who occasionally played professional roles in life as an amateur so he could write about them. I would make the occasional, clumsy rookie mistakes; walking the wrong way down the hall, taking my kids to specials at the wrong time, forgetting something on the school calendar, or losing the test I was supposed to handout to the them. They were always eager to help, even if it meant laughing with me. Thinking of myself as the awkward rookie actually relieved some of the anxiety of my unfamiliar surroundings and allowed me to have a sense of humor during the most difficult times. I re-learned from my early parenting days how kids can really test your patience. Yet, it was always during those most challenging times that I was reminded of my encounter with God just a little less than 2 years ago. Often, during my most weary moments, is when I would find Jesus in my classroom, gazing at me from the other side of my wooden desk. Through the smiling eyes of a happy child with pig-tails and braces is the loving gaze of Jesus reminding me how children are images of God.

 

 Posted by at 11:06 pm

  5 Responses to “Images of God”

  1. Thanks for sharing! What a beautiful reminder of the last year. I feel touched by God when I read this and I think others will too! Teaching can be difficult yet so rewarding! You are a good teacher and growing with Gods love to become even better and give back the love you experienced.

  2. Rob, thank you for sharing your story of how God guided you to teaching. How incredibly fortunate you are to have had the vision of what God was calling you do; always keep that in the front of your mind, and you will always know that you answered God’s call. You can share this experience with your students, and they will know to be open and willing to listen as God guides them to their vocation. Wishing you all the best in the 2014-2015 school year!

    • Charlene,

      You are so right about how fortunate I am. Believe me, this is something I will never forget and will be at the very pinnacle of the message I give to my students for as long as I am able to teach.
      The only way I can continue to serve God as a teacher is to constantly praise and listen to the Lord for his guidance and leadership by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what brought me to Notre Dame and to where I am today as a 4th grade teacher. It’s a true blessing. I will never forget you all.

  3. I love your story. My daughter just started as a teacher’s assistant at a beautiful small Catholic school in Union City, N.J, she’s also going the alternative route. My grandchildren are there too. What a wonderful profession. I love the part about how God spoke to you. God bless you on your journey. Knowing that this is God’s plan for you, will make you a wonderful teacher.

    • Diane,

      I am so grateful for your thoughtful and kind words. Thank you very much. I am thrilled for your daughter. May God reward her abundantly for choosing such a worthy vocation. This is where true happiness comes from. I cannot begin to describe the freedom I felt when I realized that true happiness can only come from serving God. All these years I worried about how other people were making more money than me. It just goes to show how we are all prone to become slaves to whatever it is we think is important outside of God’s design for us. I will pray for your daughter’s success and happiness as a Catholic school teacher.

      Thank you again for your kind words,

      God Bless,
      Rob

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