Even teachers don’t like sitting in the front row.
A week before students filled the halls of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s 39 elementary schools, their teachers gathered for a back-to-school Mass and to hear a keynote speaker. They filed into the Our Lady of Lourdes School gym the afternoon of Aug. 9 and found seats with their coworkers, chatting and congregating in the back, leaving seats in the front open for those last to arrive.
Catholic speaker Mike Patin didn’t let that stop him from connecting to his audience; he paced the center aisle while giving them an interactive presentation.
Hailing from Louisiana, he peppered his presentation with jokes and memes, asking if anyone was counting down to Thanksgiving break.
Patin also asked the crowd to think of a word that describes how they feel about starting the new school year. The educators offered words such as “hopeful,” “excited,” “ready,” “anxious,” “optimistic” and “emotional.”
“There are a lot of emotions that bubble up when we start something new,” Patin said.
He also asked the teachers to discuss with those around them some of the things that make teaching difficult, especially as it relates to COVID-19 restrictions.
“How do you stay connected and socially distanced?” he asked. “How do you tell a little person not to hug you?”
The educators expressed that social media, student mental health and salary are some issues that make teaching more difficult, not to mention screen fatigue.
“We’ve become experts in ‘zoomology,’ ” Patin said, referring to the video conference platform Zoom. “Can you imagine if the Last Supper had been on Zoom? ‘Hey, does anyone know where Judas is?’ ”
But despite the hardships, teachers were able to list plenty of reasons they still teach in Catholic schools when Patin asked what keeps them there.
“I feel called.”
“The children and their joy.”
“To be the person I didn’t have when I was a kid.”
“Because every day is different.”
“We can impact their faith; I don’t have to hide that part of who I am.”
“I enjoy being part of this community and knowing there are people who got my back.”
“I don’t know what else I would do; this feels like a good place for me.”
Patin shared with the educators three instructions for the upcoming school year: read, remember, request.
- READ: Teachers, he said, should read “the human document.”
“Nine out of 10 misbehaviors in your class need attention,” he said. “Read their hunger and see their gifts. You have power and influence. A teacher’s word and look can change (a student). You can unleash something for them” that their parents cannot “because they’re supposed to hear good from mom and dad.”
- REMEMBER: Educators should remember “there is a God,” Patin said. “You ain’t him.”
But teachers are influencers who can guide students toward who they’re meant to be.
“Your class may look like a rock garden but that rock garden is someone’s million dollars. You have 30 kids in your class. What would you do with $30 million? I would change the world. And you can.”
- REQUEST: Lastly, request God’s help because “I’m a faulty human being and people get on my nerves,” Patin said.
“Walk in those doors, look at that crucifix and say ‘Help.’ ”
And, ask for help from fellow educators. New teachers can look to the veterans for “some tricks of the trade.”
Patin thanked the teachers for their work, saying that “teaching’s hard. It’s 175 daily marathons.”
“The most important message I can give you today is thank you,” Patin said. “Thank you for caring for kids; for giving a squat; for preaching the good news to young people who are poor in self-esteem; for proclaiming freedom to prisoners, children who are imprisoned by ‘I can’t’; for declaring release to the oppressed, to young people who are bullied.”
He added, “Thank God a thousand times over we’re the ones selected for the task.”