April 8, 2016

Walking in the light of Christ: Faith, love and service guide teacher who receives archdiocese’s top educator honor

Doug Bauman adds real-life applications to the math classes he teaches at St. Barnabas School in Indianapolis, and he multiplies his influence on his students by sharing his faith and emphasizing service—qualities that led him to be selected as this year’s recipient of the Saint Theodora Guérin Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for a Catholic educator in the archdiocese. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Doug Bauman adds real-life applications to the math classes he teaches at St. Barnabas School in Indianapolis, and he multiplies his influence on his students by sharing his faith and emphasizing service—qualities that led him to be selected as this year’s recipient of the Saint Theodora Guérin Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for a Catholic educator in the archdiocese. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Doug Bauman can’t believe how amazingly memorable this past year has been for him.

He and his wife Julie savored being in Philadelphia in September when Pope Francis celebrated the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families for nearly one million people.

Bauman is also part of a team of four teachers at St. Barnabas School in Indianapolis that was one of just 10 schools from across the country chosen for a special three-year program at the University of Notre Dame—a program that focuses on helping teachers inspire student learning in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

And the father of three was recently selected as this year’s recipient of the Saint Theodora Guérin Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for a Catholic educator in the archdiocese. (Related: Finalists for teaching honor come from throughout the archdiocese)

Yet perhaps the most telling memory that Bauman shares from the past year comes from a moment at the beginning of one of his math classes.

During that time, a student volunteer leads the class in prayer and shares one of the Mass readings that day, followed by Bauman leading the students in a short reflection of how the message from the reading applies to their lives.

“The Scripture passage was the story about Zacchaeus, and how he climbed the sycamore tree in an effort to get a better view of Jesus,” Bauman recalled. “We ended up talking about how we all have a little bit of Zacchaeus inside us. We all struggle to see Jesus from time to time. The question was raised, ‘What holds us back from getting a clear view of Jesus—busy schedules, social media, peer pressure?’

“An amazing discussion ensued. Then one student asked, ‘If Zacchaeus used a sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus, what are the sycamore trees in our lives—what allows us to get a better view of Jesus?’ ”

The answers the students gave came quickly: friends, teachers, reading Scripture more frequently, having intentional prayer time at home, going to Mass more often, setting aside quiet time, and minimizing distractions.

“In a span of three minutes, our math class had turned into an incredibly deep and rich discussion focused solely on strategies that improve my students’ relationships with Jesus and with each other,” Bauman noted. “I absolutely love our five-minute, prayer-and-reflection time at the beginning of each class. Math is great, but prayer and reflection trump math any day of the week.”

Inspiration, influence and integrity

The various special moments from Bauman’s past year reflect the diverse qualities of his life.

He was a stay-at-home dad for five years, using some of that time to earn a master’s degree in pastoral theology. At St. Barnabas Parish, he and his wife of 14 years serve as sponsors for couples preparing for marriage. He also is a small group leader for youths preparing for confirmation, and he’s an extraordinary minister of holy Communion.

In his seventh- and eighth-grade math classes, he’s been known to dress as the superhero MathMan and as Bert from the Mary Poppins movie. And he enjoys hiking and biking with Julie and their daughters, Annie, 11, Lily, 9, and Betsy, 7.

“He is noteworthy as a Catholic educator because of his inspiration, his influence and his integrity,” said Debbie Perkins, principal of St. Barnabas School. “He sees it as his mission to guide young men and women to be moral, spiritual, ethical followers of Christ, and to teach them to be good mathematicians along the way.”

His students have tremendous success in Indiana’s math proficiency tests, and they learn to apply their math concepts to real-life applications, she said.

“I’ve seen him use his classroom for miniature golf as the students solve problems involving angles,” Perkins noted. “They’ve used the non-linear exponential growth model formula to determine our city’s population in four different years, and they’ve calculated the slope in algebra by comparing the speed of a cheetah and the speed of a track star. It always feels like they are playing with math a bit in class.”

The learning is also demanding in his class.

After observing his teaching style, Perkins once told him, “The work you were asking the students to do required much rigor. It was very challenging, but you gave them the tools and instruction to make it attainable.”

Seventh-grade student Samantha Moylan shares that enthusiasm for Bauman.

“He is an amazing teacher,” she said. “He explains everything to everyone. And we learn a lot of things about religion, too. He tells us not to judge. He’s a very faith-filled person.”

Another side of his influence is shared by Father Benjamin Syberg, the associate pastor of St. Barnabas who was a former student of Bauman when he taught at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.

“When I was a high school freshman, a tornado struck the south side of Indianapolis, including Roncalli,” Father Syberg recalled. “On that day, I was in Doug’s class. When it [hit], we could barely see outside the window. We spent hours in the hallway, and when we came back, water was all over our room. It was not a day for which you can prep. But he prayed with us, kept us calm and kept us hopeful.

“I will always view Doug as a man leading us through a storm, praying with scared and confused teenagers, knowing that he was more than a math teacher. He was a disciple.”

Bauman embraces that relationship with Christ and his students.

Walking in the light of Christ

“Every day I walk into my classroom, I’m given an amazing opportunity and responsibility—to teach a group of middle-school students a little bit about the world of math and a whole lot about the incredible sacrificial love that God has for all of us,” said Bauman, a 1995 graduate of Roncalli.

“We as teachers and parents are definitely fighting an uphill battle trying to convince our students that society has it all wrong, and that the real and authentic truth and beauty in life rests in the words and actions of Jesus Christ.”

Bauman tries to convince his students through the way he treats them with respect and attention, through the example he sets by attending Mass with his family, through the stories and memories he shared from the Mass with Pope Francis in Philadelphia.

“I presented each student with a rosary which was blessed by Pope Francis,” he said. “Even though they were missing math instruction that day, they needed to hear the stories from Philadelphia. They needed to see and hear firsthand that our Catholic faith is alive and thriving. They needed to hear that we as Catholics are striving to put the family first, regardless of what society is telling us.”

All those lessons connect with the experience that Bauman considers his most rewarding moment as a teacher—working with his students on the school’s annual canned food drive to help local food pantries.

“All of those cans are able to be donated because of the efforts and sacrifices of our students,” he said. “They went out ‘canning’ in their neighborhoods. They gave up some of their money to purchase cans. They did extra chores around the house to earn ‘can money.’

“When I step into the back of that truck and work side by side with my students loading thousands of canned goods, we get to see a very different and special side of each other. I get to see their humanness firsthand. And they get to see their math teacher make an attempt to pack as many cans as possible into a very confined space. It’s during those moments that I’m reminded why we are here on Earth—to love God and to love one another.”

That lesson of “walking in the light of Christ” is the one that Bauman hopes endures for his students.

“Christ teaches us to love one another as he loved us. Enabling our students to experience that Christ-like love and service firsthand is the one teacher moment that will be forever instilled in my heart.” †

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