By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
When Lee Morrison originally sent out the title of the teacher in-service to be held throughout the Davenport Diocese, he mistakenly submitted: “Will teachers go to heaven.” The diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools said he realized his mistake and sent the correct title: “Why teachers go to heaven.”
Teacher in-services were held last week in Iowa City, Davenport and Fort Madison for all teachers in the diocese. The main speaker on the “heavenly” topic was Father Ron Nuzzi of the University of Notre Dame who is senior director of Renewing Identity, Strengthening Evangelization.
More than 220 teachers and administrators attended the Aug. 17 session at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport. They represented Catholic schools in Clinton, Scott and Muscatine counties.
“Happy New Year,” Fr. Nuzzi began, referring to the start of a new school year for teachers and administrators. He hoped teachers were rested, relaxed and ready for the first day of school. “I love opening gatherings,” he said. “I don’t like February so much.” Winter in-services are typically held around President’s Day in February, more than half-way into the school year, when enthusiasm might be a bit harder to muster.
As he walked around the parish’s Denning Hall, he showed pictures of Pope Francis on a screen. In one image the pope is taking a “selfie” with young people. In another, a young child pulls at the pope’s cassock. “The pope lives in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the guesthouse. He lives a clean, safe and simple life. His talks are from the heart and he speaks off-the-cuff.” The pope is enthusiastic, just as teachers are enthusiastic getting ready for the new school year, the priest observed.
Fr. Nuzzi had the teachers read the statement, “You know you are a teacher if.…” He filled in the blanks with various answers such as “… you want to hurt the next person who says it must be nice to have the summer off,” “there is a full moon without looking outside,” “you have no life between August and June,” “you snap your fingers in public at kids you don’t even know.” Teachers responded with laughter.
The priest identified the demands of teaching: spiritual, emotional, physical, psychological and teacher attrition/retention. “People don’t know the demands and expectations put upon them,” he noted.
He told of a follow-up of 2008 graduates with education degrees; 25 percent had moved from the classroom into other work. While there are numerous reasons for dropping out, “teacher retention is a challenge because of high demands,” he said. Even well-seasoned teachers get drained and exhausted. “But they also learn and are blessed each year. There is grace and wisdom that goes with teaching.”
Fr. Nuzzi showed a video of Catholic school teacher Taylor Mali on “teachers make a difference.” Mali addressed the topic: “What teachers make.” The focus isn’t on money; rather, it’s the fact that “teachers make a difference.”
Following a break, Fr. Nuzzi showed a video parody of a parent-teacher conference featuring Mary and Joseph as parents of Jesus, their pride and joy. The diocesan teachers broke out in laughter because they could relate to the humorous lines in the video. You can view the video at http://tinyurl.com/zeeohqq
Later, Fr. Nuzzi said one stumbling block to living life in a Christ-like way is failing to address self care: spiritual, mental, physical and emotional. “Say no every once in a while. By saying no, you won’t tarnish your other work. If you say no, say it quickly and repeatedly. Even suggest someone else. And make time to be a better Christ-like witness. “Catholic schools are at the heart of the church. Remember this in February. This is the future of our church. God bless you and have a happy new year,” Fr. Nuzzi said.