January 29, 2021

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Teacher cherishes the joy and wonder of her students

At Seton Catholic Elementary School in Richmond, Ruth Brown strives to create a classroom atmosphere “where God and God’s creation are cherished and where people lift each other up.” (Submitted photo)

At Seton Catholic Elementary School in Richmond, Ruth Brown strives to create a classroom atmosphere “where God and God’s creation are cherished and where people lift each other up.” (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

When Ruth Brown shares special moments from her nearly 40 years of teaching students in the first grade, it’s easy to understand why she considers that grade to be “the Wonder Year!”

“Often, they seem so tiny—gone in a flash—but celebrated in the heart,” says Brown, a teacher at Seton Catholic School in Richmond. “Maybe it’s hearing a student use a courtesy word unprompted, or seeing a child allow another to go in front for the first time, or having a student say they want to write a letter to someone who’s sad.”

Then there are the moments when the influence of a teacher on a child goes deeper.

“I remember one time when a first-grader who was usually a motivated and capable student showed signs of slipping and then was late to school and grouchy one day,” Brown recalls. “My first questions were rebuffed with ‘I’m fine’ and ‘Nothing’s wrong.’ Later, I was walking with her back to the classroom and she started to say something. I invited her to sit down right there on the steps with me, to talk or just sit quietly.

“After a few minutes, she poured out a story about her very dysfunctional home life and how she had ended up caring for a younger brother, alone in her home for several hours not knowing where her mom was. At that moment, I could only offer her my loving presence and understanding, and the promise that, although I couldn’t fix things at home, our classroom would stay the same place of safety, respect and caring for her every day. I hope it gave her a secure spot in her life.” 

Even in such challenging situations, Brown regards teaching at Seton as an “opportunity to practice living in the presence of God in every moment.”

“My beliefs about God and God’s people inform my approach to students and to teaching,” Brown says. “If one starts with the belief that each child brings worth and a unique, special wisdom to the classroom, then the job of the teacher is to affirm and support what’s already there and then nurture the child’s spiritual, intellectual, social and emotional growth.”

She’s also a firm believer in teaching her students through her actions and her interactions with them.

“I hope they absorb the atmosphere of a classroom where God and God’s creation are cherished and where people lift each other up.”

Brown cherishes the joy and wonder that her students have brought to her life through the years: “Teaching first grade gloriously suits my mind, heart and soul.

“My hope for all my students is that they will fondly remember a time and place where they were nurtured and celebrated for who they were and who they might become.” †

 

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