read about how the Lord is working at Christ the King Catholic School
Last Thursday, Archbishop Naumann commissioned the students of Christ the King to
learn something new every day: as students, this is why they come to school. What it has taken
me many years to realize–and has been made especially clear over the past two and a half
weeks–is that this is the role of each and every one of us, including teachers! As a first year
teacher, it is consistently becoming clearer and clearer to me that I will always be a student; I am
always going to be learning how to be better and that can become stressful and
overwhelming–perfection is a daunting goal! I have heard consistently that teaching is an art; it
is something that you can hone and practice and get better at it. What I find myself telling my
students, however, in these first few weeks of school is this: I know none of you are perfect, and
I know that I will never be perfect. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try!
Before I started teaching, I thought it was going to be constant, engaged learning, where I
impart knowledge to the students, and they receive it with thirsty minds, eager for more with
perfect, focused attention. Maybe that was just a little ambitious. Just in these early weeks, I have
found it to be most of the time the exact opposite: I feel that I correct more than I teach, the
classroom falls into messy chaos, some students STILL forget to write their names on their
papers, and by the end of the day I am completely exhausted. But, at the end of the day,
intertwined with all the tiredness and mess is precisely the reason that I wake up in the morning
to come right back: my love for the students and the brilliant human beings that they are. In such
a short time, there have been so many little moments with each and every one of my4th grade
students that have made me understand why teachers spend forty years of their lives waking up
and coming back to school every single day. And it’s the smallest things that give me fuel for
when the hard things happen; it’s the pictures already beginning to cover the classroom walls, it’s
the eager faces showing me their completed assignments, it’s watching a student finally grasp a
concept and understand, it’s the unexpected perfect behavior from the loudest children, and it’s
the consistent good behavior from the quiet ones. It’s seeing their excited hands flapping in the
air, because they know the answer! And it’s getting to see their faces every single morning as
they walk into the classroom.
If nothing else, the first few weeks of school have taught me that, contrary to what I
thought coming in, being a teacher is not just about teaching. It’s so much more personal than
that. Being a teacher is not about the money, or the experience, or the advantages; it’s about the
students. They make a classroom, not a teacher. I had four empty walls and a lot of empty chairs
before this school year started. Now, two and a half weeks in, I’ve got 25 more faces to love than
I did before. I am so beyond blessed to have each and every one of them, and I am so excited to
see what little moments the rest of the year holds.
Of all the nights of our conference with the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, Wednesday night would be the one that I will remember forever. After three days of sitting through talks from speakers on many topics of Catholic education and going to breakout sessions on specific aspects of teaching, we were given an evening to go out and explore the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Besides some suggestions on where to go from the conference coordinators and additional recommendations from natives of the city, we had little idea where we would go for the night. With some planning between us and a group of teachers from Colombia, we made the plan to go to Primanti Bros, a famous sandwich place in Pittsburgh, then go to St. Anthony’s chapel, which has the largest collection of relics outside of the Vatican, and then go on the Duquesne Incline, a nearly 150-year-old cable car ride that travels up the mountains around the city. We mostly kept this plan, but the night would be so much better than we expected.
First came our half-hour walk to the nearest Primanti Bros, a walk I particularly enjoyed for the buildings we passed. Going into the trip, I had assumed that all the buildings in Pittsburgh would be big steel and glass skyscrapers like any other US city, but the buildings we saw were mostly made of brick and stone and were built over a hundred years ago. Jennifer Meisenzahl and I spent most of the walk gawking at the beautiful buildings we passed, marveling at the stonework and beauty of the architecture. This only grew when we turned a corner on our walk and found ourselves across the street from a small stone church with a beautiful courtyard full of statues of saints and well cared for flowers and trees. The inside of this church, called St. Patrick’s Church, was just as beautiful, filled with many portraits of saints, beautiful marble work and stained glass windows, and a simple but beautiful sanctuary that took my breath away. What was even more wonderful about this church was that they had a set of stairs going from the naive of the church to the sanctuary known as The Holy Stairs, a tradition of the church going back to the Fourth Century. Many of the teachers in our group took this opportunity to pray on these stairs, climbing the twenty-eight steps on their knees toward the Tabernacle. It was such a beautiful place to see, and one we never expected to find. This occurred again after we had eaten at Primanti Bros. After we had eaten, we realized that down the street there was another church called St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, the first church for Polish Immigrants in the Pittsburgh area. This church was more grand than any other church I could imagine. It was a beautiful brick building covered with stained glass, columns, and arches. Inside, the church was decorated with beautiful paintings on the walls and ceiling, depicting the history of the faith in Poland and the saints they claimed. I couldn’t imagine finding such a remarkable church in Pittsburgh, but what was even more surprising was to find a kneeler sitting before a shrine of the Virgin Mary with a sign saying that St. John Paul II had knelt there during his visit to the diocese in 1969. It was such a humbling experience to kneel in the exact spot that this holy man prayed at so long ago. After leaving the church, we realized we would be unable to make it to St. Anthony’s Chapel before it closed, but we all agreed that seeing these two beautiful little-known churches was worth not going to the relics.
It then came time for our journey to the Duquesne Incline. Due to the size of our party, we split into two groups to Uber there. The drive itself to the incline was uneventful until my group arrived and we couldn’t find our friends. We had no idea where they were, especially since they had left the church before we did. After some texting and phone calls, we hilariously learned that while we were at the top of the Incline, where the best view of Pittsburgh was, the rest of our group was at the bottom. After laughing about the situation, we took the chance to enjoy the view of the city and rivers. It was also during this time that we met another group of visitors to Pittsburgh, also enjoying the view of the city. I was wearing a Benedictine College t-shirt that night, which one of the men noticed and said he was a Benedictine. After speaking with this man, we learned he is a theologian who has lived in Jerusalem and Rome and works on many translations and anthologies of Genesis. With him were his cousin and her husband who happened to be from the exact same town one of our Columbian friends was from. These two were able to speak the same dialect of Spanish about their hometown, figuring out where each other had lived and how the town had changed. Once again, no one in our group expected this trip to be like this. I would have never expected that we would not only see a fantastic view of Pittsburgh at the top of the incline but also meet someone from the exact same town as one of our new friends and meet a great theologian and neither did anyone else in our group.
After going to the Duquesne Incline, we stopped at a local bar for drinks and to relax. We talked about our respective schools, talked about our families and our lives, and laughed at the stories we told each other. We learned so much about what classical education looked like in South America and how their program had grown over the years and we shared with them how our school was developing our program and our plans for the future. It was a perfect way to end such a surprising and exciting night, with everyone laughing and ready to start up a new school year. Everyone in our group, both from our school and our friends from Colombia, agreed that this trip was so wild and surprising that nothing else could come close to the excitement of what we had done. Going into this conference, I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what would happen. Now, I am happy that I went, not only to learn more about Catholic classical education but also to get to know this amazing group of teachers I went with and become friends with so many fellow educators from around the world.