There’s no doubt about it, teaching is a hard profession. Whether you’re a new teacher right out of student-teaching, a 30 year veteran teacher, or a parent simply trying to teach your kids the difference between left and right, it’s not easy. In fact, it can be tempting to get caught up in the newest educational technology, methodology, and buzzwords, thinking that these things can take the place of a strong love for the truth and the content that you’ve been tasked to teach. As a lifelong educator, it took me more than a few years to really understand that the most memorable and effective teachers aren’t the ones who are necessarily on the cutting edge of trendy educational technology, but rather those who were most passionate about the truths they were conveying.
We all remember most fondly the teachers from our youth who were so energetic about the content that they clearly loved. I often think of my 8th grade religion teacher, a saintly woman, who took more than a few moments of her spare time (if a teacher truly can have spare time!) to introduce me to the extraordinary life and writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Little did I know, as a young elementary school student, that this introduction would very sincerely change my life. I continue to be inspired by Saint Thomas, who in question 40 of the 3rd Part of his Summa Theologica, delivers a beautiful reflection on the way of life that Jesus chose; the life of a teacher. As a parent and catechist, this reflection never fails to encourage me; first, as the primary educator for my very own children, and second, as a catechist for those parents who have entrusted me to teach their children about Christ and His Church.
Saint Thomas reminds us that at the time of Jesus so many people were like confused lost sheep – they had scraps of the truth, but not all of it, and the scraps that they did have, they didn’t have securely, so Jesus did an awful lot of teaching. Of all the conditions which can be taken on by human nature, that of the teacher is one of the highest, because Jesus Himself chose that way of life. Every teacher who is not Christ – the sole, true teacher – needs a teacher. We all need to receive instruction before we give it, and once we are instructed, we need to spend time in contemplation, ruminating over the truths we received.
Saint Thomas Aquinas describes how Jesus took up a particular kind of life that was both an active and contemplative life, which he calls the mixed, or apostolic, life. Jesus’ way of life was marked by deep contemplation, followed by the outpouring of that contemplation in His teaching and preaching. A teacher is remembered most by their activity, passionately pouring themselves out in the classroom in a flurry of words and action – but if that activity isn’t rooted deeply in a life of contemplation, quietly reflecting on the truths they’re conveying, then they run the risk of simply being a noisy gong. Our students, whoever they may be, have a right to our formal instruction in the faith, as well as the assurance that we, ourselves, are nourishing a deep prayer life.
Now that I’m tasked with passing on the faith to my own children, showing them the need for a personal and sacramental relationship with Jesus Christ, I’m constantly reminded of the need to focus on the basics – allowing my own relationship and love for Christ to be transmitted to them, not just by my words, but also by my own way of life, rooted in contemplation and prayer.
Our students, our children, don’t necessarily need the best textbooks and educational technology. While that may help, more importantly, they need you, who will walk with them as you teach them. They need a relationship with others who have been transformed by Christ, so they, too, can walk on their own two feet as sons and daughters of God. They don’t need the highest paid tutors, they need you, who will give flesh to the faith, who will assist Christ in making the faith incarnate in their lives. Whether we are a specially trained Catechist who has years of higher education in faith formation, or a parent who ardently desires to pass on the faith to their children, we are called to imitate a certain aspect of Christ’s life; Christ the Divine Teacher. We are all servants of one master, and He’s asked us to fulfill a role that He Himself has filled. This is an incredible gift, to imitate a certain aspect of Christ’s life very directly.
I’m immensely grateful for the teachers in my life who have modeled Christianity to me from the fruits of deep contemplation and a relationship with Christ. It’s my hope that I can continue to follow in the footsteps of Christ, the Divine Teacher, and inspire others to do the same.