Teaching Beauty in Catholic Schools:
I am lucky to work in a school that is so supportive of the spiritual growth of both the students and staff. But my most recent inspiration came not from a staff development day, but from my Twitter stream (of all places).
From his Twitter handle @pontifex, Pope Francis tweeted: Thank you to all teachers: educating is an important mission, which draws young people to what is good, beautiful and true.
I was proud that Pope Francis had singled out us as educators, and I felt the call to reflect about my teaching practice in the classroom. Have I really been leading my students to what is good, beautiful, and true? I thought perhaps this only applied to the art teachers, who study the magnificent artworks of Michaelangelo, or the music teachers who study Mozart and Beethoven, but I was a Business Studies teacher; I figured there wasn’t much beauty in a balance sheet.
So I read through my Stage 6 Business Studies syllabus, trying to find an opportunity to study an amazing charity that saves the lives of kids in hidden pockets of distant nations, or a business case study on a finance company that made its profits entirely ethically (if they existed). Maybe the call to draw my students to the ‘good, beautiful and true’ would have to be during my obligatory load of Year 8 Geography (which I am certain no teacher is actually ‘trained’ to teach); there’s always a good and true glacier somewhere that’s bound to be beautiful right?
As I reflected on the practicality of incorporating ‘beautiful’ businesses into my unit of work it dawned on me that perhaps I was going about it all wrong. Sure there are instances where we can incorporate good, true, and beautiful content into our lessons, but as teachers we teach students through much more than our syllabus content. Below are a few simple ways I hope I am able to draw my students to what really matters.
Making prayer normal
Prayer is not just a routine we do before each lesson, not something we do because we’re in a Catholic school, but something we do because we have a personal relationship with God. Because sometimes we just have things to pray for. We pray for each other, we pray for our upcoming exams, we pray for motivation, for strength, for diligence, for knowledge. Simply, we just pray together and involve God in our everyday lessons. I want to teach my students that prayer is something we just do. I want to impart an enriched prayer life to each one of my students.
Striving to be constantly cheerful
I come to each class with a smile. How else can I convey the blessing of having meaningful and fulfilling work than through my own disposition? It’s hard for students to see beauty in work if we teachers look like we hate our jobs. It’s no wonder that students don’t want to work hard, if they are constantly fed messages that work is boring, tiresome, mind-numbing, and a necessary pain before we can get to the weekend.
Showing them love beyond the classroom
The first thing I ask people who are considering being teachers is, ‘do you love kids?’ Above our love of subject matter, our love for education, or even our love for holidays, should be our love for the students in our care. We can show love to our students through the simplest of actions; doing small things to build rapport, to create a safe learning environment, to let them know you have a vested interest in their lives and, most importantly, having their interests above our own.
That may mean we need to answer emails over the weekend, or spend more time designing lessons that support our weaker students and extend our stronger students. It may simply mean not giving up on that one student who appears to have given up on himself.
Striving to be the best teacher I can be professionally
This means preparing thoughtful, effective lessons (whether they work out or not). I provide adequate and meaningful feedback on assessments. I work on my craft, fighting the temptation to be mediocre in my teaching because I think this, in itself, demonstrates the beauty of our profession.
Sharing my own story
Why did you really become a teacher? Sharing our own story can give our students a great perspective on life. If no one becomes a teacher for the money, then why do we do it? This was a surprisingly effective way to convey to my students that money isn’t everything (quite a feat in a Business Studies class). If your students can understand that what gets you out of bed in the morning is more than a pay slip, their plans can expand to encompass all the beautiful things that will one day get them out of bed.
Making sure I pray for each one of my students by name
One thing I took from a former principal was that we should be the spiritual leaders of our classrooms, ensuring we pray for our students more than anyone else in the room. So, to this day, I pray for each one of my students by name (I even print out a class list). I pray for their current situations, for their well-being, for their future happiness. I pray that they won’t just be good students but good adults, and one day good parents, and good professionals.
And I pray that they find what is good, beautiful and true even in things as simple as a period 4 Business Studies class about balance sheets.