Book Review: Teacher and Teaching

teacher and teaching

Teacher and Teaching by Fr. Richard Tierney, S.J.

What books truly take a Catholic perspective on education?

What books, breakdown in detail, the Christian qualities that a teachers must strive to possess in order to fulfil their duties?

Well, by chance I came across upon an article by Fr. Richard Tierney, S.J. in an old edition of The Sacred Heart Review I was browsing, dated September 19th, 1914. The title caught my eye:


I happened to recognise this Jesuit priest was the very same author of Teacher and Teaching,  a book I had read just last year, and it prompted me to share it with you in this book review.

Written just months before the death of Pope St. Pius X, it remains as relevant today as it was when it was first published over one hundred years ago.

The particular edition of this book which I recommend is the Nabu Press edition at 204 pages long. It is a professional scan of the original text and presented in a glued binding. The ISBN is 1174973005.

This is probably the best option nowadays unless you can get your hands on an old sewn binding hardback copy on the used market. There are other ‘on demand’ prints out there but I can’t vouch for them.

The book covers a decent breadth of material as the chapter titles illustrate…

I The Teacher and the Teacher’s Chief Work
II True Education
III The Ideal Teacher
IV Methods of Teaching
V Mental Stimulus in Education
VI The Method and Function of Recitation
VII Discipline
VIII Character
IX Training for Character
X Religion in Education
XI Sociology and Catholic Education
XII The Boy and the Secular Life
XIII The Boy and the Priesthood
XIV The Boy and the Religious

It draws upon timeless natural and supernatural advice, expounding on what elements are necessary for teachers to be skillful Catholic educators in the character development of our children, which is after all the “…primary aim of all true education.”

But in reviewing this book, for want of time, I wanted to touch upon just one chapter of the many I could have chosen from, to demonstrate that it promotes a truly Catholic understanding of the requirements of a Christ centred school: The Ideal Teacher.

In 2004, Fr. Michael McMahon SSPX, lecturing on the Jesuit model of education to School Principals, had the following to say about the importance of skilful Catholic teachers.

“…One cannot possibly exaggerate the need to have good inspiring teachers. We may suffer various monetary constraints which we believe disallow us from compensating a teacher in proportion to his worth, but I would say, now is the time to make every possible sacrifice to reward our teachers and attract qualified individuals. Really, if it comes down to trimming the food budget in the priory, I would say, then do it!”

Powerful words, and not to be taken lightly. So what are these attributes of a skilful Catholic Teacher, that inflame Fr. McMahon to recognise them as being utterly indispensable to our schools? To answer, let us then look closer at Fr. Tierney’s advice (in italics) to uncover the hallmark of such professionals…

The teacher must be a true gentleman.

The educator shows propriety at all times, especially in communication where… the necessity of simple, chaste language, free from the taint of slang and provincialism, and an accurate, unaffected pronunciation.

Furthermore a teacher exudes in courtesy, frankness and openness of mind. The dangers of being other wise… “From sheer necessity of being dictatorial on occasions they are apt to become habitually and arrogantly so. Their dogmatism often exceeds all bounds, even the bounds of truth. The intellectual evils of this are deplorable enough, but the moral effect is well nigh disastrous. Frankness slips away and cunning and untruthfulness, the refuge of cowards, and unfairness to adversaries develop. The mind is closed to all suggestion and correction and improvement. It has become sufficient to itself…”

Moreover “…Courtesy is an instinct of a cultivated soul, proportionate to the goodness thereof, and shows itself in a thousand ways, such as by respect for superiors, the aged, the opinions, feeling, rights and legitimate habits of others, and all that.

An ideal teacher, must be tactful, calm, not impulsive, simple of manner, not affected, large of mind in all things, not small: in short, so well disciplined as to be perfectly balanced.”

The teacher must have ability.

Like courtesy, this quality suggests many ideas; some in reference to the intellect, others in regard to the will.That a teacher should be intellectual goes without saying. The classroom is no place for a dolt or an ill-trained man. The true master must have natural ability which has been cultivated long and assiduously.

If he is disorderly and inconsequent in presentation, his pupils will be the despair of all future teachers…Learning, order, conciseness, clearness, simplicity, power to amuse without distracting, therefore, are some of the qualities a successful educator should have…The moment a man ceases to reflect and study, in that instant he lapses from a teacher to a mouther of words.

The teacher must be moral.

He must demonstrate.. justice, fortitude, the mother of perseverance and good discipline, kindness and patience. These are indispensable. The teacher’s position is unprofitable and intolerable without them.

The major quality is godliness. The ungodly man is entirely out of place in a classroom. He himself is stunted, deformed and cannot form others. His soul is unsymmetrical and he may communicate his amorphism to others. He lacks the last and most potent touch required for perfection, the touch of God…If he be true to his principles he will be an insufferable egoist…Life will begin with himself and end with himself…Such is the natural outcome of selfishness. And ungodliness, to put it at its lowest, is the supremest selfishness, frantic egotism which outrages every sense of decency and justice, unseats God and puts self on the throne for which man should be the footstool. Away then with the ungodly teacher. Give us rather the man of God, reverent, high-minded, devout. In such there is a power for good, not of earth, but of Heaven.

All good teachers must reflect on their practice and their apostolate. Albeit that we are far from perfection, that must be our goal.

Fr. Tierney recognises that without Christ, without continual refinement and without a deep seated Catholic morality, we are not worthy to serve God as educators to our children.

This chapter illustrates the thrust of the whole book: total commitment to Christ and the teaching profession are prerequisites for doing God’s will in the classroom. 

In sum, if you are looking for a book that will provide a thoroughly Catholic understanding on how a teacher must conduct themselves, both within and without, then this is the book for you.

I’ll leave the last words to Fr. Tierney..

Christian teachers should do likewise.They should conceive unto themselves Christ, their prototype, the great teacher. They should ponder His life, burn His image into their souls, till it becomes a flaming, leaping thing which must communicate itself to others. Then the most unpromising material will yield to their influence. The breath of a new life will enter it. A new image will appear therein, weak and blurred at first, but growing slowly in shape and beauty, until at last the fair Christ is reproduced in another human soul. The teachers’ work is done. Generations will call them blessed. Protection Status

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