What does it mean to be a Catholic Teacher?

There are some great resources online and I always find them especially valuable, when I come across topics that remind us what teaching is and what it means to be a Catholic teacher.

So when I came across this recent article, I thought you might want to ponder upon its message. I have posted it in full here for your convenience…

Teachers from various schools within the SSPX meet annually for a two-week seminar and training, outlining educational philosphies of the SSPX

The SSPX Catholic Teacher Seminar (CTS) took place earlier this summer with 60 teachers from all over the U.S. in attendance.  It was a two week session that started on July 18th and ended on July 30th in St. Marys, Kansas.  It was an intense and beneficial two-week training for the educators of our Society schools.  The seminar was led by Fr. Alexander Wiseman, along with the assistance of several lay SSPX school teachers.

Everything was discussed from mundane to supernatural topics.  The training connected all of the different topics and brought them together as a whole in order to instruct those attending on what constitutes a good teacher, what is the goal of education, and how to accomplish the mission of restoring all things to Christ.

The definition of education is derived from the Latin word ducere, which means “to lead.”  Understanding this is key for the mission of a teacher. For teachers do not just instruct their students, they lead them through the initial journeys of their lives.  Their duty is to lead the students to God and eternal life.  Hence, this key foundation was laid down on the first day with the teachers in training through the discussion of how man is capax Dei, meaning “capable of receiving God.”  The seminar did not stop there though, but ventured deeper.  From this foundation the participants walked through many more questions, such as: What does it mean to educate and be a teacher?  Who is man and what is he to be?  What is man’s perfection?  What does it mean to be perfect? How can one teach virtue? What does it mean that we are made in the image and likeness of God and are to reflect God? Is that really something the teacher can actually accomplish?  What good is the teacher?

St. Thomas Aquinas defines education as follows: “The movement of the child to the perfect state of man, in so far as he is a man, which is a state of virtue.”  In other words, it is the teacher that helps guide the child towards the good, shows him the good, and points to the goal of man—that is his perfect end.

In pondering this truth, the teachers gathered at this year’s CTS discussed how it is that teachers teach.  The teacher has to be two things to be a good teacher of both the intellectual virtues and the moral virtues.  First, as previously noted, the teacher has to be a leader.  That is, the teacher must lead the student to also come to know the Good that he knows.  In a way we can say this stems from the lex credendi. The teacher who knows the laws of belief teaches the intellectual virtues in wonder and awe while promoting a thirst for the good.  The teacher walks their students through reality to discover and think for themselves.

Secondly, the teacher teaches moral virtues by what the teacher is himself.  This is very important, as you cannot give that which you don’t have.  The moral virtues need to be present in the teacher’s own life.  Of course the teacher can show this perfectly in the lives of the saints, but the students also verify the truths taught by the one teaching them first.  The teacher, in a certain sense, is a source of reality from which the student can then verify what he has just learned. This draws on the lex orandi, so that now, what we believe is shown in how we pray and act.  The teacher must show the proper order of man with his passions, actions, and emotions.  Therefore, you cannot use the same approach in teaching moral virtues as you would for the intellectual virtues.  For instance, with the virtue of temperance, materials can be studied, but it is the teacher himself that must reflect this virtue in order to make it real and sensible for students.  For as St. Thomas Aquinas states, everything we come to know is first known through the senses.

In summary, the teacher is a pointer to the stars, that is, to the good! He guides the student to look up, to develop an awareness outside himself and yet remain connected to himself—reality.  The teacher shows what the stars mean and how they work.  For it is only after the student comes to know the stars that they can love the stars.  The teacher must always remember not to obscure the view of the stars, to not block the light of the good, the beautiful, and the true.  For teachers are not the source of the good, but rather a channel through which God sends the good to his little ones.

For the upcoming year, teachers should keep in mind a few things.  First, that we are all capax Dei—capable of receiving God, and to know, love, and serve Him.

Second, teachers must recall that man has a meaning and a sacred purpose!  Every heart is created for and thirsts for the good.  It is the duty of the teacher to keep the order and nature of man in mind.  They must ponder and pray about what is to teach and learn, so that the good is accomplished and man is moved evermore towards his perfect end.  When they do this they will see how teaching—according to Fr. Bernard-Marie de Chivre’s—is “an overflow of the knowledge acquired by Love, an overflowing of Joy at having organized it, preparing it, an overflowing of emotion to be able to pass it on.”

Third, students and teachers must keep in mind that there is a risk in education.  The teacher can only point to the good; they cannot make students be good.  This encompasses the free will of the students. After having been shown the good, they must choose to act upon the good.  That is the risk.  The teacher does all he can to show and love the good, but it is God that moves the soul and it is the free act of all students to choose the good.

Fourthly, for both teachers and students, it is crucial to remember that two attitudes must be present: First, an attitude of reverence, that is, respect and awe for the good, whether it be in doctrine or nature; and second, an attitude of love—that having come to know the good, they then love it, which in turn fills them with happiness.  An analogy given by Fr. Wiseman was of a flowing river and its solid banks.  The solid banks represent the fixed doctrine and rules of nature. The flowing river represents that love, which is alive, healthy, ever flowing, and organized by the banks of the river.  Thus, teachers must then teach with reverence and love, and students must learn with reverence and love.

Finally, if teachers have not read the article by St. John Baptist de la Salle (patron of teachers), “The 12 Virtues of a Good Teacher,” they are highly encouraged to do so.  St. John teaches that these twelve virtues—Gravity, Silence, Humility, Prudence, Wisdom, Patience, Reserve, Gentleness, Zeal, Vigilance, Piety, and Generosity—are the recipe for a good teacher.  His article also gives the teacher good meditations to ponder before beginning the class to obtain the right mindset for their profession.

From this article, Fr. Wiseman highlighted some errors and dangers the teachers need to watch out for. He warns educators not fall into one of these three categories:

  1. Betraying or falsifying the good.  This can happen when they moralize–put the rule over the reason for the rule.  Cynicism, is another way of also falsifying the good.
  2. Betraying of falsifying the child.  This is directing the child away from the good or giving bad examples for him to follow.
  3. Betraying or falsifying their role. This can happen when they set themselves up as the source of the good.  They can do this in little ways by taking things too personally, not respecting the student as capax Dei, not keeping things in their proper order, and not treating the sacred as sacred.

May God, the teacher of mankind, bless our teachers, and may our students be blessed with a fruitful year of learning the good!  May Our Lady aid them all in their journey to the Eternal Kingdom, and we ask our faithful to keep them all in your prayers!

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