March 4, 2011

Journeys of life, learning and faith: Saint Theodora winners show passion is at the heart of their classroom approach

Five teachers—Mary Rose Collins, Lisa Hannon, Patty Mauer, Marsha Sander and Stephany Tucker—from across the archdiocese were recently recognized as winners of the Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award. Patty Mauer, above, the fourth-grade teacher at St. Patrick School in Terre Haute, says she tries to show her students that their journeys of life, learning and faith are intertwined. (Submitted photo)

Five teachers—Mary Rose Collins, Lisa Hannon, Patty Mauer, Marsha Sander and Stephany Tucker—from across the archdiocese were recently recognized as winners of the Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award. Patty Mauer, above, the fourth-grade teacher at St. Patrick School in Terre Haute, says she tries to show her students that their journeys of life, learning and faith are intertwined. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The child’s answer surprised and delighted Patty Mauer.

As the fourth-grade teacher at St. Patrick School in Terre Haute, Mauer wanted her students to think about Jesus’ journey through the Last Supper, his trial, his crucifixion and his death—and how those events are connected to the Mass.

At one point during the discussion, the students were asked to give a one-word answer to this question, “How would you feel if you were one of Jesus’ Apostles who witnessed these events?”

One student responded, “Afraid.” Another said, “Angry.” A third whispered, “Ashamed.”

Then a girl gave the answer that surprised and delighted Mauer.

“Amazed,” the girl said.

“I repeated the word and asked, ‘Why amazed?’ ” Mauer recalls.

The girl responded, “I would be amazed to know that he went through all of that for me.”

Mauer then told the students to think of themselves at Mass and ask themselves, “How do you feel each time you hear the words—‘Do this in memory of me’—from the Last Supper? Do you feel amazed?”

For Mauer, that moment offered an insight into how meaningful teaching opportunities can arise at any time with students.

“It wasn’t I who created the word or provided the inspiration,” she says. “This came from the vision of a child. As a teacher, I think it’s important to let students know their journeys of life, of learning and of faith are all intertwined. It is through the sharing of these journeys that we can all learn and grow.”

Mauer is one of the five teachers from across the archdiocese who were honored on Feb. 23 as a winner of the 2010-11 Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award by the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education.

Here are the other winners and their defining approaches to Catholic education.

Lessons in laughter and love

Lisa HannonAs a first-grade teacher, Lisa Hannon loves that she gets to have so many opportunities to laugh and have fun with her students.

Yet, she is touched even more by those personal moments when former students recall the impact she has had on their lives.

“There have been a couple of occasions when middle school students have chosen me as a role model or someone they see as a hero,” says Hannon, who has taught for 14 years at St. Malachy School in Brownsburg. “A former first-grader of mine recently used me as someone who has had a great influence in her life. It was for an essay required for her high school entrance application.”

Describing herself as “someone who likes change,” Hannon usually switches projects from year to year to keep herself fresh as a teacher. Her appreciation for change is reflected in her choice to leave a career as a legal secretary to become a teacher. Still, there is one part of her life as a teacher that she likes to stay constant.

“I enjoy staying in touch with my students and their families as much as possible, and being invited to special occasions in their lives or even everyday things like baseball games,” she says.

She also savors those moments when her students embrace their faith.

“It is amazing when, for instance, we are learning about the Holy Spirit, and a student will share a personal story of being frightened or worried, and how praying to the Holy Spirit gave her courage,” Hannon says.

“It is very important for me to create an environment in which my students feel at home, feel safe, and know they can trust me. My students know I love them.”

Teaching true character in literature

Mary Rose CollinsIn her high school English classes at Lumen Christi Catholic School, a private school in Indianapolis, Mary Rose Collins strives to introduce her students to novels and plays that support Catholic values.

“My classroom teaching includes as many opportunities to incorporate our Catholic faith as I can find in each lesson,” Collins says. “Much of this is spontaneous, as in discussing dating rituals while analyzing the character of Pip in Great Expectations. I ask my students, ‘Is Pip’s behavior moral or immoral? Do young people still face these same conflicts today?’ ”

In 14 years of teaching at Catholic schools, Collins has established two main goals—“to teach the faith, and prepare students who are confidently Catholic and well prepared for college.”

One of her favorite pieces of literature is the play A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt.

“A Man for All Seasons exemplifies Catholic doctrine, obedience and character,” Collins notes. “Older students enjoy playing the parts. In the end, they truly understand [St. Thomas] More’s integrity and the cost of obedience to the Church.”

Collins wants her freshman, sophomore and junior students “to think for themselves about their own moral character, about the cost of faithfulness to the doctrine of the Church, and how they handle secular challenges to virtue.

“Literature exposes students to ultimate truths about life, through all the twists and turns of creative writers,” she says. “And it allows students to benefit from human wisdom beyond the specific time, place and people of our lives. In grasping these truths, each student discovers his or her place in the world, and what he or she must do as a child of God to better the world and ensure his or her own salvation.”

‘With God on my side’

Stephany TuckerWhen Stephany Tucker was asked to share a particular moment or story that defined her as a teacher, she couldn’t settle on just one. Then she shared an insight that revealed everything you need to know about her as a teacher.

“I feel that every day that I step into my classroom is a defining moment for my students and me,” says Tucker, who teaches at St. Anthony of Padua School in Clarksville.

“I go into each day with the attitude that every child has potential and can succeed. My students come to school ready and willing to learn because they know I believe in them, and I want them to succeed and be the best they can be. I do this each day with enthusiasm, energy and with God on my side.”

Tucker teaches a variety of classes at St. Anthony School. She instructs both seventh- and eighth-grade students in math. She also teaches Spanish and religion to the eighth-grade students.

Her influence as a teacher also extends to St. Mary Parish in Navilleton, where she is a member and a catechist for the sixth-grade faith formation class.

“Teaching in a junior high classroom can sometimes be a challenge, but at all times it is a reward,” she says. “I am passionate about education. I set high expectations for my students, challenging them and expecting them to take risks. I want my students to feel a sense of belonging and respect.”

She especially strives to help her students deepen their faith.

“My classroom is a place where students can grow, develop and gain a better understanding of their Catholic faith. My mission is to encourage students to live out the Gospel and become responsible Christians.”

Teaching as a subversive activity

Marsha SanderMarsha Sander has been teaching for 29 years, but she’s always looking for new ways to encourage her high school English students to develop their own style and their own voice as writers.

“I teach my students to effectively interact with technology, whatever the ongoing technology is now—Google, Twitter, Facebook,” notes Sander, the chairperson of the English department at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. “I want them to know they have many avenues for expression, and a responsibility to express to the best of their writing and voice ability.”

Sander draws her inspiration from a book that she read in college—Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner.

“I subscribe to the ideas within that tract to this day,” Sander says. “We revolted against the lecturer, the dominant force, the ramrod straight figure in the front of the room. Ours is based on student engagement—not to entertain, but to interact with.”

Her approach of engaging students has a long-term impact on them, she says.

“I love receiving e-mails, tweets and Facebook comments from past students on how well they perform in college,” she says.

She then shares one of those notes: “Mrs. Sander, just wanted you to know that on my English composition, I received bonus points for writing so well. My college instructor said I wrote above and beyond her expectations.”

“I like to think that I teach creativity via structure,” Sander says. “I provide the structure. Students search and find their own voices—not the voice of the school, society, parents or their peers—as the basis of unique writing.” †

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