Firm faith supports Catholic teachers

Kathleen Macridis says her Grade 3 class at St. Marguerite Catholic School in Spruce Grove 'light up'  when she talks about God.

PHOTO | KATHLEEN MACRIDIS

Kathleen Macridis says her Grade 3 class at St. Marguerite Catholic School in Spruce Grove 'light up' when she talks about God.

October 26, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

There are some things about the life of a teacher that teachers everywhere experience. The stress of endless paperwork; long hours; troubled students; and playing a number of roles in the life of a student.

But there are some things in the life of a Catholic teacher that are unique.

They include the following blessings. A troubled student approaching to ask, 'Can you please pray for me?'; the freedom to express your faith-life openly with your students; the opportunity to bring the Catholic faith into every classroom, for example.

"Our faith is supposed to be part of everything we teach and if you don't have that faith, it's hard to do that," said Kathleen Macridis, a Grade 3 teacher at St. Marguerite Catholic School in Spruce Grove. "It affects every aspect of my life as a Catholic teacher because everything that we do is based on that."

Macridis is in her seventh year of teaching. Her classroom has up to 26 students each year, and Catholic teachings and spirituality are integrated into all the subjects.

She has also become more comfortable being real with the kids about her own faith, from which she draws strength for her demanding role as a teacher.

The sacraments are key to her faith life. The Eucharist presents the opportunity to let the not so good things about her day and week go, as she dies to herself and rises to new life each time, she said.

"Students need to know that teachers are people too," said Macridis. "It's okay to show emotions when you talk about stuff that's spiritual."

Her students have a natural acceptance for God and are open and excited about the faith-based teachings, said Macridis.

"It's not a challenge for them to believe that God loves them and cares for them," she said. "They light up when I talk about God. They are just hungry to know about who Christ is and who God is. I love teaching faith to elementary."

Dan Burkinshaw, a math, science, religion and health teacher at Gerard Redmond Community Catholic School in Hinton, knows older students come with many more troubling experiences. So it can be difficult to foster faith in students who are sometimes even cynical about religion.

PRAYS FOR STUDENTS

But Burkinshaw, who has become more comfortable being open about his own Catholic faith with students throughout his career of 15 years, said he has never had a student turn him down when he has offered to pray for them.

Dan Burkinshaw

Dan Burkinshaw

And in the often-stressful life of a teacher, there are some days when he needs to just take a break and pray for himself.

"My faith makes my job easier as a teacher because I'm able to live in the classroom as a faithful person. The kids, they know what's fake and they know what's not," said Burkinshaw.

As his career has gone on, Burkinshaw has faced more and more kids in crisis. Once wary of being perceived to be pushing his faith, especially in a school like Gerard Redmond, where a large contingent of the school's population is not Catholic - he now sees in his life as a teacher the students need God's love. They want to feel that hope.

GOD'S PRESENCE

"I've never, ever had a kid say, 'No thank you' to a prayer," he said. "I've never had a kid get angry at me for saying, 'You know, God loves you and wants you to succeed.'

"And once I realized that they really want God's presence in their lives - whether or not they're ready for all of it - I was like, 'OK, this is awesome.'"

Burkinshaw believes Catholic teachers are called to see the face of Christ in every student they teach, which is not always an easy task, he said.

"Being a Catholic teacher, you're not only accepting and loving them but you're also adding the fact that God loves them as well. Adding that no matter who they are, no matter what they do, that they are always accepted," said Burkinshaw.

"And frankly, that's why Catholic education is better, because we have to see the face of Christ in every kid and as a result, we have to look at them - the really tough kids - and we have to say, 'What would Jesus do?'

"What did he do with the tax collectors, the criminals?

"Jesus was all inclusive and as a result, it's allowed me to be a better teacher."

Burkinshaw's students help make him a stronger Catholic as well because they are always asking him questions, and sometimes he is forced to tell them he does not have the answer, but he will find it out.

"It's reciprocal - we're helping each other grow," he said.

High school English and religion teacher Vanessa Colombina at Christ the King in Leduc said teaching has been the best thing for her faith development for the same reason.

"I work with high school students who question and critique everything that comes their way, including the faith," she said.

"I get to learn things just based on their questions because I go and try to help them find the answers and that just moves me that much closer to the various teachings and to God. It's a pretty unique opportunity."

Colombina, who is in her seventh year of teaching, often shares her own journey of faith with her students.

As a teacher and a guidance counsellor, she also hears a lot of personal stories and sees a lot of things which can be a source of stress that is sometimes difficult to separate from her personal life.

GOD HEALS

"Thankfully, we have a faith where I can just lift that up to God and I can get some healing and strength that way, which is fantastic," she said.

Despite the ups and downs of teaching, the calling - which especially for Catholic teachers is deeply seen as a vocation - can be the most fulfilling occupation to have, she said.

"I'm just really blessed to be a teacher," said Colombina.

"It's hard and it can be stressful, but at the end of the day, I get to hang out with some pretty cool youth. I get to be shaped by that and I get to help shape them as well."