Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My First Day of Catholic School


Those of you that have paid attention to my "quick takes" within the past couple weeks probably already know where this is going: yesterday was my first day substitute teaching at our parish school! :)

As someone who was born and raised Catholic, I've always been aware of Catholic schools and what they entail. It's not a secret that many Catholic schools often provide a more solid education and tougher curriculum than the average public school; nor is it a secret that at Catholic school there is usually an opportunity for prayer and/or Mass during the school day.

However, the closest I've ever come to being in a Catholic school was back when I saw my mom's classroom when she taught for a couple years at a Catholic high school about 45 minutes from my hometown. So yesterday when the morning began with the announcements, an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and the pledge of allegiance it finally hit me -- yesterday was literally the first day I can ever recall experiencing an actual school day in a Catholic school...in my entire life.

Interestingly enough, the friends I made in college frequently assumed that I had attended a Catholic high school - whether it was because of my involvement at the Newman Center on campus, the way I spoke about my faith, etc. This always made me chuckle because every bit of formal education I've ever had has been at a public school - from kindergarten all the way through college. Any knowledge I have about my religion or faith practices comes solely from my parents, attending church, friends (both lay people and vowed religious), and a lot of personal research and prayer.

Photograph of St. Therese of Lisieux
It might not sound like an earth-shattering revelation to acknowledge that yesterday was my first real time in a Catholic school, but once I recognized this I began to notice how many little things I appreciated that would never be found in a public school. The pre-school classrooms I helped out in were plastered with photos of saints, crucifixes, holy water fonts, prayers, rosaries, and several other holy images - all located at the eye level of a toddler, of course. As we got ready to take the children to the playground the teacher I was with kept repeating for them to "line up at St. Therese!" I looked around and sure enough, on the wall was a beautiful image of St. Therese. These children already knew at the ages of four and five who St. Therese was, or at the very least could easily recognize the most famous illustration of her holding a crucifix and roses. I didn't know who St. Therese was or recognize her until I was in my twenties.

All I could think to myself over and over throughout the day were these four things:
  • These children are incredibly blessed (and they may never have any clue how blessed they are until they get to college and meet people who never had daily prayer, weekly Mass, or religion classes as part of their school curriculum).
  • The number of times we had prayed as a class by the end of the day was hands down more frequent than I usually even manage to do in my adult life from 8am-3:15pm.
  • This place feels like home....
  • If it's possible, I want this for all my future children.

A large part of why my sisters and I never attended Catholic school is because almost everywhere we lived there either a) was no Catholic school, b) were no openings for new students, or c) it wouldn't have made sense financially. Although Michael and I have no idea where we'll be living, we had already decided that if the location and finances allow it, we would definitely opt to send our children to Catholic schools.* And after my experiences yesterday, I feel more convicted about this decision than ever before! 

Overall I'd say that I had a wonderful experience substituting in the pre-school yesterday. The teachers were fantastic, the children were fabulous (I got many questions about my baby as well as an enthusiastic recommendation from 4 little girls that I name our son Justin Bieber), but most of all: I constantly felt and saw the love and light of Christ. I felt at peace, rejuvenated, and joyful by finally being surrounded by this kind of atmosphere (while I love my Big Ten, state school university, I can't deny that only a Catholic school provides the kind of environment I often yearned for at my secular campus). Thank you, Lord, for a beautiful day filled with love, prayer, and an inspiring collection of teachers and students!

*Obviously homeschooling is another viable option that would foster a rich spiritual life and education for our children, but considering our firstborn is only 24 weeks in utero I'd say we have ample time to figure out if I feel called to that or not (because at the moment I don't).

"I am and have always been a strong proponent of public education. But by the virtue of its very nature - publicly funded schools cannot offer the type of spiritual education that Catholic schools have long provided."
-Mark Foley


  1. This is a great reflection. I am a product of Catholic schools. Looking back, I realize I truly didn't appreciate this gift from my parents or the great sacrifices it took for them to send me and my siblings there.
    Jim and I have already had the conversation that we hope to be able to send our future kidlets to Catholic school, at least K-8.

    1. I'm sure if I had grown up in Catholic schools I would have taken it for granted until I was older as well. As children all we know is what we're introduced to and we tend to assume it's the norm everywhere else, too. I think it's great that you can look back now and see the gift and sacrifices involved in having the experiences that you did. :)

  2. It's interesting to hear your thoughts on the Catholic school. I also recently began subbing (as a nurse) at the Catholic school around the corner. (The city school district nurses serve both the public and private schools in our town.) After spending 6 weeks at a public school, there was a STARK contrast. All of the things you said about the benefits of Catholic school are certainly true and it was very different to start the day with prayers. At the public school I was always sure to say the pledge correctly and stand straight and do everything right because I knew I was setting an example. At the Catholic school I did the same with the prayers but it felt so strange!

    The thing is...I preferred the public school. Yes, the children were really polite and smart and their health was taken care of. But they didn't need me. I didn't feel like I was making a difference there. In the public school, those children needed me to advocate for them, to teach their parents (most did not speak English). I felt like I truly cared for those children. I was also uncomfortable with the lack of diversity in the Catholic school because this is something that's quite important to me. I definitely can see where people feel it's the best place for their children and I completely respect that because up until I was working in a school I would probably have thought the same. But I just felt uncomfortable the whole time and knew it wasn't the place for me--at least for now. I tend to bristle at situations that segregate the faithful from the not, the richer from the poorer, the lighter from the darker. It's a tough call though, especially with children. We often choose for our children with the idea that we are molding them, which is true. It's easier for me as a mostly molded adult to choose to put myself out there in a secular environment with a mission mentality, but it can be a risky choice for a child.

    Sorry to be sooooo long-winded, but I just loved the chance to discuss since we'd both just experienced this so recently!

    1. Thanks for sharing your reflections, Kelley! I think God definitely calls us to do His work in different places at different points in our lives. Ultimately I think what matters is that we do His work and further His mission/evangelize/set an example in whatever vocation we have as well as in our careers - regardless of what setting that is in.

      I understand what you mean about really getting to advocate for the kids and feeling more needed in the public school. Considering I spent my entire education in public schools I know how true that probably is. If I had your job and compared the schools and children from that point of view, I think I'd also rather be working in the public schools at that point.

      With my temporary subbing job I prefer being in the Catholic school for several reasons - but I specifically chose to get involved only at that school because I wanted to give back to my parish in some way. As a parishioner I had discovered that the school was in immediate need of more substitute teachers, so I applied in order to be of service within my parish community. My husband and I had also been trying really hard to meet more people within our church, so it has also helped me feel more like part of the community there (whereas if I subbed for the public schools I could be in 5 different schools in 5 days...but if I sub 5 days at the parish school I really get to know the staff and children much better). Plus, it's a comforting and less stressful community for me to be involved in during my pregnancy. :)

      I also understand what you mean about a lack of diversity and not wanting to segregate the faithful from the not, etc. I think this really depends on where you live because Ann Arbor is an incredibly diverse city so our Catholic schools are also very diverse. However, when I say that I want my kids to be able to attend a Catholic school I don't approach it from a standpoint of wanting to separate my children from the rest of the world or people that aren't "like them." Instead, I view it as an excellent opportunity to equip them with a solid understanding of their religion when they're young & to provide them a community (and friends) that's supportive of this...so that as they get older and encounter more of the world they will be better prepared to stay true to themselves and God's will within their lives.

      I definitely think there are pros and cons of Catholic schools and public schools alike (in terms of education, social formation, religious formation, etc). Ultimately, though, I think because I have the public school experience and have caught glimpses of what some of my Catholic friends experienced and the opportunities they had for growing in their faith through their Catholic high schools has made me desire to give that opportunity I never had to my children.

      Sorry I was so long-winded, too! I think a topic such as this requires a lot of reflection and discernment of where God is calling us at any given point in time (because we might be drawn to certain environments at different points in time as He leads us there) & I think people have several valid reasons for choosing one path over another. It certainly doesn't make one better than the other. After all, if we are doing what God wants us doing then we'll always be where we're supposed to be!

    2. Agreed! I still don't know what call I would make and I suppose it would depend on the community and what schools were like where we lived. Right know there ae lots of Catholic schools in the area, but they don't reflect the greater community so it doesn't feel right to me here. But maybe it will later. Glad that you have found your self at home and answered a calling

  3. Just adding a comment - if we had stayed in two particular communities, then your father and I had definitely planned on sending you girls to the Catholic high schools (I guess we were "backwards" parents - we felt that the high school years would be the most important to be in the Catholic schools if they were available).