The outdoors are bustling with the noise of children playing a variety of games as the humidity in Indiana is at its highest. Stores are bustling with back-to-school sales. Nestling into their classrooms and offices, staff and teachers throughout the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend are busy getting ready to welcome back students for another year of school. These members of the community are carrying on the mission of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, bringing education and faith formation as shepherds to the youth of the Church. As August begins, many people, both short and tall, anticipate the beginning of a new school year.
Many teachers and staff share that getting to know their new students and families is always a wonderful time of year. Beginning her 38th year of teaching for the diocese, Virginia Simpson, kindergarten teacher at Queen of Angels, said that she enjoys “meeting the students and getting to know their personalities. I always love seeing my little ones grow up and have families of their own. And even getting to teach some of them!”
The beginning of the school year will also bring routine back for many, like St. Pius X Catholic School’s second-grade teacher, Jacque Moore – routine which is needed to help keep everyone on track. She says that after being off all summer, the first week of school is the hardest. Moore looks forward to the excitement on her students’ faces as they prepare for and then participate in first reconciliation and first Communion. For other teachers, it is a similar reaction when they witness their students’ “I got it” moments.
Teachers and staff want the Catholic community to know that it truly takes a village to make the school year successful. Sheila Gillett has worked in the education field for 32 years teaching middle and high school, and for the last three years has worked in her retirement as office secretary at Queen of Angels. Gillett shared, “In order to help our students become a part of a strong community and grow in their faith and academics, we must be partners. The school needs parental support and involvement in Mass attendance, attending parish and school events, and volunteering to help at school activities. Also, communication is so important! We need parents to really read and respond to their teachers’ weekly newsletters, the school flyers that come home, and the school newsletters that come in their emails, to help keep them informed of what is going on in the classrooms and how they can help their children and the school.”
Moore said, “As teachers, we really do want what is best for your child and we work hard every day to ensure your child is successful at school.”
Gillett gently reminded families that, with the upcoming school year, students who have an early bedtime routine, including getting their clothes ready the night before, lunches made, a place to keep their backpacks and supplies, and a good night’s sleep – without access to electronic devices like televisions, phones, tablets, etc. – will have a much easier time waking in the morning and getting to school on time. They will also be more ready for a day of learning.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped bring to light the efforts of teachers and staff in preparing future generations for life. Because of the struggles teachers faced during the pandemic, parents and parish communities have considered ways to show support and appreciation to those who are tasked with the calling of educating their children.
Gillett suggests adults in the community prayerfully consider becoming safe-environment trained so they are able to volunteer in schools when needed. Having the training allows members of the community to aid during lunch or recess. Volunteers can also help in the classroom or office during special events when staff need to be away. It can be difficult to honor teachers or allow them needed time to step away from their duties if there are not enough people willing to cover for them. Karen Tippmann, who teaches kindergarten at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Fort Wayne, agreed that having community members eligible to serve as substitute teachers would be a great help, as schools are often in short supply of substitutes. That was especially needed during the pandemic, as teachers followed CDC protocols for quarantining.
Teachers do not have a regular 9-to-5 job; they spend their weekends and evenings grading papers and planning the following week. While school is out during the summer, many attend workshops to further their abilities in the classroom. Many teachers enlist family and friends to help clean and prep their rooms for the beginning of the school year; some are left to do it alone. Many spend their own money on certain supplies. Tippmann suggests, “If someone from a parish wants to donate to a classroom, there is a great Facebook group called Amazing Teachers (Allen County, K-12) that teachers put Amazon Wishlists on for the classrooms. I encourage people to check it out. You can even search for a particular teacher to see if they have posted a Wishlist.”
Gift cards to teacher supply stores, Amazon, Walmart, and other stores can come in handy when there is a need in the classroom as well. Store-bought healthy snacks for the classroom are also very much used and appreciated.
Diana Tandy currently teaches fifth-grade at Queen of Angels and says that prayers are always a way to show support for teachers.
Tippmann advised that: “The best thing we can do is lift them up in prayer. Also, remind teachers and staff that there needs to be a work/life balance and to take time for themselves outside of the classroom. It is hard because as teachers and staff, we are constantly thinking about what to do better or how to reach that one student, but we forget about self-care. Our day never ends at 3 p.m. when the students go home.
“Self-care could be setting a specific time to stop and focus on physical health as well as our own families. I know that is going to be one of my goals this school year.”
Several teachers stated just a note of encouragement or appreciation goes a long way.“Teaching is truly a gift from God,” Tandy added. “Our students and families are never far from our minds. We appreciate any encouragement and prayers.”
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, patroness of Catholic schools, once said, “Cheerfulness prepares a glorious mind for the noblest of acts.” The Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese is blessed with teachers and staff who model the saints for the future generations of Catholics.
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