Attending Catholic schools influenced Jillian Walter’s life so greatly that she knew she wanted to come back and teach other students in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. After her first year of teaching second grade at Holy Family School in South Bend, Walter’s enthusiasm for Catholic education has only increased.
Born and raised in Mishawaka, Walter is a recent graduate of Holy Cross College. She attended Catholic schools in the diocese from the time she was in kindergarten. In her younger years, many members of her family saw in her the potential to engage with and educate children, telling her how she was destined to become a teacher. Though she protested her calling at first, she learned firsthand from the camps where she served during her years at Marian High School that she could in fact handle teaching children in a classroom setting.
After graduation from Holy Cross College, she took her first teaching job. “My decision to work at Holy Family was actually a really easy one,” she shared. “In particular, what drew me in was actually just word of mouth about the amazing principal. I had a friend who did her student teaching here, and when I got set up with that interview, in the first five minutes I knew I loved this staff.”
Knowing that the staff had a strong experience base to turn to when she had questions and new ideas was an attractive aspect of her first year at Holy Family. “Especially as a first-year teacher,” she continued, “knowing that I had such a collaborative work environment, and then to this point, now in the fourth quarter of my first year teaching, I feel a lot more prepared and ready for the next year. I’m already starting to think of little things I want to do different, talking with my cohort, the principal for next year. And a lot of things just really preparing my career at this school.”
Although her education at Holy Cross College gave her the foundations to begin her career, she continues to learn and grow as she progresses as a teacher.
“A part of a teacher’s philosophy, I think, is always being a lifelong learner. So even though I went to college for an education degree, I graduated with that degree, I did my student teaching, and I interviewed and I had been in similar grades as this one, there’s always things you’re going to learn when you’re really in the trenches doing something.”
Some of the things she learned this year were how her students responded to certain things, how to approach behavioral and emotional issues and how to adapt a lesson plan when she realizes that there may be a better way to convey ideas to her classroom.
“Luckily, I have a really collaborative staff. And what’s special about Holy Family, is that we have two of multiple grades, so I have another second-grade teacher teaching these same things as me, so I really get to collaborate with her, pick her brain about different activities or ways to teach things.”
Her Catholic faith plays a significant role in teaching across a handful of subjects.
“I think when it comes to teaching in a Catholic school, what makes it unique and kind of individual is the fact that, even if I’m just teaching math or science or social studies or language arts, there’s this center in truth, goodness and beauty. So being able to fall back on that no matter what lesson I’m in, whether it be a religion one or something else, is a really unique and beautiful center to everything you do in the classroom,” she remarked.
Walter recalled her favorite memory of her first year of teaching: When she prepared her students to receive their first holy Communion.
“It’s so much fun to see their little faces learn things that I’ve just taken for granted at this stage of life, like going up and bowing, saying ‘amen’ – the declaration that’s in that one simple word.”
People who may wonder what it’s like to teach in the diocese and those interested in pursuing a position in Catholic schools should know that “teaching in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese is unique and it is beautiful,” she said.
“From the moment these kids walk in in the morning, they’re greeted by their teachers – we all stand out in the hallway. At a lot of other schools, you don’t get that personal connection with your kids. We try to keep class sizes down, which is really nice. I have 11 students right now. So I’m able to make very genuine connections with them.”
Knowing her students and anticipating their needs has also been a highlight for Walter.
“I’m able to know if we’re just having a tough day and we need to adjust some things for them,” she said. “I’m able to pray with them if they need that. I love teaching them about how they can interact in their faith, especially through difficult times. Because from kindergarten on, we all handle things in life that are difficult, and it’s good to be able to teach them those foundational skills, especially through the lens of faith and that truth, goodness and beauty.”
The impact that a teacher can make on one child’s life, no matter what that person is teaching, “is just so great and so powerful,” she emphasized.
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