This is the second year Lisa Lauder has taught her students — last year when they were in fourth grade and again this year as fifth graders. The week of Feb. 21 was the first time she saw their full faces when the school went mask optional.
Lauder is the 2022 Father Joseph McGee Outstanding Catholic Educator Award winner. She’s a three-decade-long veteran of teaching at St. Gabriel the Archangel School who spent the first 30 years of her career teaching fourth grade. Now, in her 31st year, she teaches fifth- and sixth-graders.
She said the curriculum and expectations are wholly different between fourth- and fifth-grades, but her approach to teaching has remained the same.
“I try to make connections with real life and try to bring in their lives and experiences,” Lauder said during a recent interview. “I try to let them have a choice — in presentations, in how they learn.”
If you can “get them hooked” on a subject or topic, she said, it makes all the difference.
Her connection to St. Gabriel started long before she began teaching there. In fact, she attended the school in Fern Creek and is a lifelong parishioner of the church. Beyond elementary school, Lauder graduated from Assumption High School and then earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in education from the University of Louisville.
Lauder views teaching as a vocation, not just a profession, and her faith plays a large role in both.
“I truly think, to Catholic school teachers, it’s a vocation,” she said. “We aren’t in it for the money. We love the kids; we love what we do. … We get to teach what we believe, teach our faith.
“I used to think about how maybe I should move on and teach in the public school system. But then it’s like, how do you get through this event without telling your kids to pray? I think that’s the big thing. All teachers do amazing things, but Catholic school teachers are there because they believe in what they do and believe in their faith.”
Lauder doesn’t like the spotlight. She said she’s “very humbled and overwhelmed” by the award, but ultimately she just wants to go back to some semblance of normal in the classroom after teaching during a pandemic for two years.
Right now, the middle school teachers at St. Gabriel load up rolling carts with their supplies and move between classrooms, enabling students to stay in one place and lessen the chance of COVID-19 outbreaks. Last year, Lauder’s classroom was outfitted with metal frames and clear plastic sheets to separate students when six feet of distance between desks wasn’t possible.
“I look at people I meet every day and think, ‘Wow they do so much good.’ So to be put in this category is humbling,” Lauder said. “I was always raised that your actions speak louder than your words. I was taught at a young age to be involved, participate, do your part. (It’s) extremely humbling to me.”
One way Lauder has gotten involved and done her part was by joining the parish’s Refugee Sponsorship Team in 2019. Through that team, she was able to work with Catholic Charities to sponsor a family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who resettled in Louisville that November. Lauder credits this experience as her most meaningful throughout her time at St. Gabriel.
“I never imagined the relationship you could build with people so quickly, even when you don’t have a common language,” she said. “I’m around kids every day, but those little ones seeing things for the first time — automatic sinks, hand dryers, elevators — it was quite an experience. … To see the joy in their eyes and the gratitude for the help we were able to give — things we take for granted — they were so very grateful (for).”
Lauder will receive the award during the Catholic Education Foundation’s annual Salute to Catholic School Alumni Dinner on March 15 at the Galt House Hotel.