Now that school is out, or nearly out for some schools, and teachers are taking a moment to catch a collective breath (and parents are preparing summertime activities), we should all take a moment and reflect on a recent message placed on Twitter by Pope Francis.
He said “Thank you to all teachers: Educating is an important mission which draws young people to what is good, beautiful and true.”
Those 21 words capture precisely the ministry that is pedagogy — the calling to teach others. And the pope is right, of course, in issuing his request for a “thank you” to all those called to this ministry.
We all have memories of favorite teachers, of people who inspired us to achieve, or at least strive to achieve; people who gave us hope by the very example of their lives; people who demonstrated — through the act of daily living — the strength of their faith.
There are scores — hundreds, really — of such people serving the children and parents of the Archdiocese of Louisville. We pause for a moment at the start of each school year to gather elementary teachers in one spot for a morning of prayer and appreciation. But appreciation for teachers is something we should carry with us — and acknowledge — year ‘round.
Many may not be aware of it, but Pope Francis when he was Father Jorge Bergoglio in Argentina, was himself a teacher. In fact, Argentine journalist Jorge Milia, who the Associated
Press says is very popular in his home country, recently produced a story — based on an interview with Pope Francis, Milia’s former literature teacher — on ways the pope influenced his life.
It is a story with which people throughout the archdiocese can identify — a teacher who changed a life.
In a Catholic News Service version of Milia’s story earlier this year, the Argentine writer said that he was part of a group of “rowdy teenage boys” when he encountered his literature teacher, Father Bergoglio.
“We were a group of rebellious adolescents, in full hormonal turmoil, hankering and hungry for anything new,” Milia wrote. “We had no desire to study.”
(That might sound familiar to a lot of men in the archdiocese.)
But Milia said that his instructor, the future pope, “knew how to handle the chaos” the young men produced. “He loved to pose challenges and thrash out new ways of encouraging them” to do their work, he wrote.
Pope Francis, Milia wrote, would “break up a more cumbersome piece of reading with a snippet of poetry that moved every one of us so much that, 50 years later, many of us still remember the whole by heart.”
Milia recalled that his literature teacher “exuded genuine wonder when discovering some image hidden in the passage of a text,” and he told CNS that the future pope was able to transmit that “wonder,” that same awe and passion for the magic of literature, to his students.
Pope Francis guided the young men with suggestions and explanations, rather than acting in a dictatorial manner, the Argentine writer said.
He helped “shore up their self-confidence” by making the students take turns at actually teaching the class themselves. He helped them explore creative writing and write, direct and perform their own plays.
“He gave importance and support to whoever ventured an in-depth pursuit on their own,” Milia said in the CNS article. “His unwavering vocation was to not let us founder, to entrust us with concrete goals, to convince us what counted was working methodically, every day, and not trying just to ‘wing it,’ ” the Argentine wrote.
We’ve all encountered such teachers — not future popes, most likely — but people who were determined to make us produce nothing but our best. There were teachers in all of our youths who helped us identify what we were called to do, what we were best at doing.
Recently, Pope Francis told about 300,000 Italian students that he loved school as a boy, as a teacher and a bishop because it was a place where he “was challenged to try to understand reality.”
The pope explained to the students that he’d never forgotten his first grade teacher. “I love school because that woman taught me to love it,” he said.
It was an eighth-grade English teacher who once took a young basketball addict aside and said “if you’ll just spend half the time in the library that you spend in the gym, you’ll become a writer. You have a gift.” She might have been somewhat prophetic.
The point to remember is that our teachers, those in the Archdiocese of Louisville who spend 70 to 80 hours a week educating our children, are called to their professions. And they know, and are reminded of it at the beginning of each school year, that their profession is a ministry, their classroom a place where God’s presence is celebrated.
We should celebrate our teachers, too.