The Educator’s Life Journey By: Antonio Botana, fsc

In all of the articles I have read throughout my brief, yet very involved Educational career, none have made more of an impact on my Educational beliefs than “The Educator’s Life Journey” by Brother Antonio Botana. This masterpiece draws out a framework for educational success that combines the logical with the spiritual. Through St. De La Salle’s charism, Botana gets straight to the root of what every Christian Teacher’s motivation should be as they go about their daily vocations.

Whether you are serving the poor, the rich, public schools or private, Brother Antonio outlines your mission and allows the Holy Spirit to fill in the lines with your talents.

Please, take the time to read this invaluable and free Lasallian resource. It will certainly help you understand God’s will for the schools in which you serve.

Click here to view the The Educator’s Life Journey in its PDF entirety.

Live Jesus in our hearts forever!

What is Motivating Educational Reform?

For years, Teachers and Administrators have tried to come together to “fix” the Educational System. Their problems are moving targets, constantly changing and usually growing in difficulty. From the bottom up, they have done everything possible to ensure the proper education of their students.

Government officials have also done their best to “fix” these problems from the top down. As the problems grow in difficulty, they seek ways to standardize everything so as to attempt to “level the playing field” for students and teachers. In making things as equal as possible, they try to diminish distortion and achieve academic progress for all students.

These two groups are fighting for the same purpose, but their motivations differ as far as the east is from the west. For that reason, the “moving target” problems remain just as difficult to hit for each group. Until both groups come to a consensus on what their foundational motives are, Educational Reform efforts will fail due to a lack of solidarity within the hierarchy of the system.

Through the Lens of the Government:
Throughout the 20th century, The United States Educational system was a rogue of pedagogical experimentation. Since not much was expected from such a young nation, we had little to lose and everything to gain. We were new, risky, and creative.

With creative practices and innovation, we flourished during the Industrial Revolution. We put a man on the moon, became a technological superpower for the world, and skyrocketed ourselves into prestige as a youthful world power.

At the turn of the 21st century, however, other countries that had nothing to loose and everything to gain began showing signs of life. They started to flourish much like we did and are now passing us in academic success.

Our Government has taken notice. Now, they are looking to change our Educational system so that we as a nation will remain an economic stronghold and flourish once again. They are motivated by the power that our students can offer to the future of America.

To ensure that this happens, they look to the logical proof of numbers. Their theory is that if they create a comprehensible standardized test and a means by which students can achieve success on these tests, the skeleton of the Educational system will become firm enough to stand on its own power. It will then be the Teachers jobs to add the meat and organs to the body so as to give it life. Once this creation is able to live on its own, it will carry America on its back to new heights, to new power, and to new sources of economic progress.

Through the Lens of the Educator:
The pressure to “follow suit” with the Government expectations is written into our contracts, but not into our hearts. From the top down, we are expected to appease laws such as No Child Left Behind, even when there is little evidence that suggests its effectiveness for our students. While we struggle to ensure their proper education, we are caught in a crossfire of what is expected of us from the hand that feeds us, and what our own motivations are to serve our students faithfully.

For an Educator, our motivation is almost in polar opposition to that of our Government providers. Ours is a motivation of charitable faith as opposed to power retention. We seek the well-being of our students first, and then we hope that our lessons will impact their decisions as future leaders of our Nation.

For that reason, our motivation to teach becomes two-fold: Through learning, we want our students to become economically stable in their futures as well as main characters in their personal ongoing process of enlightenment.

As proof of this, we stress their need for educational advancement as a means to better their lives as well as the lives of others. We teach them that education is the pathway towards economic stability, but that this should never be their single motivation to learn. We show them that their studies are the means towards enlightenment, towards understanding themselves in society, and towards owning their ideas through a personal creativity that is characterized by their very selves. In other words, money becomes secondary to their personal journey towards understanding the truths of the world.

Educators seek permission to teach in this way as opposed to teaching so that our students can pass a test. We search for freedom in our pedagogical practices so that our students can experience the liberty that true teaching can offer them. While we continue on in our search, we find many closed doors that have been locked from the inside. Those with power, both Educators and policy makers, have the keys to open these doors, but we refuse to open them because of one primary reason: fear.

A Common Motivation: Fear
Fear is the one characteristic besides student success that both the Government and Teachers share. It is what keeps both sides from unlocking the doors. Sadly, it is servile fear; like a student has for an overly harsh principal, which dominates each group. The Government fears loosing control of the Educational system and its powerful attributes that wil help sustain the Nation’s future. Meanwhile, teachers feel that they will not be able to offer the best for their students. They fear that if they go against protocol, they will loose their jobs. They fear that their failure to “speak up” will ultimately result in the failure of their students. Clearly, each group is subject to fear based on what motivates them.

Progress by Fear:
Educational Reform, from this point on, will be defined by fear. But that doesn’t mean that fear itself cannot be seen in a positive light. If Government officials and Educators decide to open the doors of dialogue, the present servile fear will change into a different, more profound form that will lead to eventual progress. This new fear will be filial, like an obedient child who fears his devoted father, or like a successful student fears disappointing his respected teacher.

To best establish this connotation-less, filial fear, we must establish a “new school” that is based not on the logic of numbers and standardized tests, but on pedagogical initiatives that have the attitude of the teacher as its foundation.

In A Teacher’s Life Journey, Antonio Botana FSC, reminds us that if this “new school” is established, it must be teacher driven. He stresses that all Teachers must place upon themselves consistent reflective behaviors that “must open the spectrum of possibilities to which the teacher must direct his commitment.”

Botana then states that these behaviors should work in several directions:

Toward the teacher himself. He will strive to improve:
– his professional competence, his continuing formation in the various subjects that he teaches;
– the genuineness of his witness, the coherence of his life with his words, his commitment to justice, charity, respect for persons…;
– his accessibility, his lack of self-interest, his presence in activities…;
– the style of his dealings with others, his relations to them.

Toward the students:
– an extensive knowledge of them as individuals, openness, dialogue, an interest in their problems;
– a personalized “accompaniment”, which is a process in education that calls for constancy and dedication, personal guidance;
– adaptation of the programs and techniques of learning to the actual possibilities and needs of the students, investigation into the formative elements that are most appropriate and the techniques that are most effective.

Toward the educational community:
– in order to promote a spirit of solidarity and collaboration;
– a willingness to share responsibilities
– dialogue and cooperation with the other teachers, the parents, the administration.”

Botana finishes saying that “concrete initiates will flow from [these].” In other words, when Teachers consistently reflect in these ways, their lessons will satiate their students craving from knowledge, their students will achieve success, and our Government will not only trust us to make decisions, they will be proud of what we have been able to achieve.

When the pressure of “teaching for the test” is replaced with a Teacher-driven, “new school” that is based on pedagogical initiatives, the aforementioned reflective practices become a catalyst for academic success in schools.

Final Thought:
Since the turn of the 21st century, the Government has played the role of overprotective controlist that teachers have tried to defy, not the dedicated father that their teachers wish to please. As a result, Educators have been torn in two between following the rules and following their hearts.

When we focus our Educational Reforms on the individuals who directly serve our students everyday, we will finally be able to hit the “moving target” problems in Education by moving along with them. No longer will the Government need to aim from long distances; they will have their highly qualified, constantly reflective Teachers take shots from point blank range.

For that reason, I urge all who read this to look deeply within themselves and decide, what is truly motivating our Educational Reforms? Is it Government policy or Educational pedagogy? Is it servile fear or filial fear? Is it economic advancement or intellectual enlightenment?

The answer to all of these questions can be found behind the closed doors of dialogue. Teachers, with clean conscience and in good faith, please knock. Government officials, with open ear and open mind, please open the door.

Resources:
Botana, Antonio, A Teacher’s Life Journey, MEL Bulletin 8/9. Found online on 3/4/11 at
http://www.lasalle2.org/English/Resources/Publications/PDF/Education/Cahier8.pdf

How a Genderless God Leads “His” Children

Johnny is one of your students. He is a fairly hard worker but a jokester most of the time. He has a smile that can change the classroom environment as quick as lightning and a positive attitude that is infectious among his peers.

At one point, after teaching a lesson on the chemical properties of matter, Johnny is working tirelessly trying to complete a science experiment at his table. You notice a slight bit of confusion on his face as he fumbles through his textbook. You decide to pass by to make sure everything is going well because you know that if Johnny is confused, there is a good chance the rest of the class will follow his lead.

When you are about 2 steps away from his desk, he feels your presence and lifts up his head sharply. With his mind still on the experiment, he throws his hand up and blurts out “Mom? I mean… Mrs. Johnson? I don’t get it.”

The students who are close by begin laughing historically at the idea that Johnny would call you “Mom,” but you get caught up in a moment of silent pride. Johnny has subliminally connected the same sense of comfort that he feels at home with school and, more importantly, he feels towards you a love that is similar to that which he has for his mother. Nothing could be more humbling for you as an educator.

As Christian Teachers, we have been given the responsibility to care for God’s Children as if they were our own. To do so, we take on a parenting role that, in the words of Brother Edward Everett, FSC, “is as gentle as a mother and as firm as a father, so that we can be understood as the visible sacrament of God for each child.”

Teachers, like God, fulfill the roles necessary for their students to progress in knowledge and virtue. Sometimes this means playing “mom” while other times it means playing “dad.”

For pedagogical ways to fulfill these roles in your classroom, consult the genderless creator of all parents by constantly putting yourself in His presence. He too likes it when we call Him “Dad.”

Live Jesus in our hearts forever!

iQue Viva Cristo Rey!

In the early 1900s, Mexico went through a period of religious persecution.  Many people pledged allegiance to the Mexican government and helped injustice rule while others took the side of the Christian faithful and hoped that justice would prevail.  One religious congregation was seen by the Mexican government as a particular threat.  They were consecrated religious teachers called the Christian Brothers.  This group of educators refused to sacrifice their allegiance to God and continued to teach the regular academics prescribed by the Mexican government with the Gospel message sprinkled into every lesson.  When government officials spoke of their teaching methods, they would warn each other saying, “Watch out for those Brothers, they can find a way to teach catechism in math class.”
Although very few Lasallian Brothers were hurt dring this time, many other Catholics gave up their lives to ensure that Christianity would reign in their land and continue on in their culture.  As they made their heavenly transitions, many yelled their last words “Que viva Cristo Rey!” (“long live Christ the King!)
On today’s date, we celebrate the end of the liturgical year on the feast of Christ the King.  May our lessons, our teachings, our very lives be lived as if we were fighting for His glory to remain in our land and in our cultures like our Mexican Brothers and Sisters who paid the price so that Mexico, and all of Latin America could remain Holy.
iQue viva Cristo rey en nuestros corazones por siempre!

The Ten Commandments for Teachers

The following list is taken from St. John Baptist De La Salle’s Collection of Various Short Treatises.  It was designed for his religious congregation of consecrated Brothers who dedicated their lives to Christian Education.  Although it was never intended for the laity, I believe that parts are pertanent in our callings.  At the very least, they give us a way to enter into God’s presence through meditation.

Enjoy

Ten Commandments That the Brothers
of the Christian Schools Must Always
Keep in Mind To Meditate
and in Heart To Practice

1. Honor God in your superior by obeying him promptly.
2. Love all your Brothers cordially at all times.
3. Teach your students well and gratuitously.
4. Do everything in a spirit of faith and for God alone.
5. Fervently use all the time prescribed for interior prayer.
6. Frequently think of the presence of God in you.
7. Often mortify your mind and senses.
8. Keep silence strictly during the prescribed time.
9. Keep chaste by very great recollection.
10. Cherish poverty by willingly having nothing.

Live Jesus in our hearts forever!

Summer Reading- “Meditations for the Time of Retreat”

Summer is upon us which means teachers everywhere will be taking advantage of Summer break. I am hoping that many of us will pick up a good book to help us with our spirituality. The book I am recommending in this entry will do just that. It is called “Meditations for the Time of Retreat” by St. John Baptist De La Salle.

As many of you have seen, I have added a couple of pictures to the bottom of the blog. The first is of St. John Baptist De La Salle (1651-1719), Patron of Christian Schools in the Catholic Church. This man was a pioneer for spirituality in the classroom and established many of the common practices we follow today.

La Salle’s vision went deep enough to establish a religious congregation made up of men who were willing to serve as life-long teachers. These men, today known as “Christian Brothers,” have dedicated their lives to the construction of God’s children inside the classrooms of Christian schools. Their community is a worldwide fraternity that has vowed life to teaching, obedience, poverty, and communal life. In the past 300 years, their ministry has been blessed to cover over 85 countries in which Lasallian schools offer Christian education to over 700,000 children and young adults.

Now that you know the history of the author, I must implore that you read his book, “Meditations for the Time of Retreat.” From the Introduction by Brother Miguel Campos F.S.C. to the direct and logical style of La Salle, this book is a must read for anyone who has been called to the vocation of Teaching. In all truth, there is so much wisdom in this book that it is hard to pick out one quote or phrase that would touch upon the profundity of La Salle’s words. It is simply a necessity for any Christian teacher because it touches on several themes that we practice everyday in our classrooms.  Some of these topics include how to live our Christianity as Teachers, how to discipline our poorly beaving students with dignity, and how to keep all of our pupils away from the sins.

The best part about this book is that it is free. You can download the PDF file at any time. Start on page 412 to read “Meditations for the Time of Retreat.”

If you have trouble, click here to go to the Lasallian website where La Salle’s complete works can be downloaded in English. Then, search for “Meditations for the Time of Retreat,” place yourself in the presence of God and read the words of this great Saint.

Live Jesus in our hearts forever!

Teachers as Guardian Angels of Education

The term “Guardian Angels of Education” is a metaphor that was coined by one of the first pioneers of worldwide Christian Education and spiritual pedagogy, St. John Baptist De La Salle of France. His legacy lives on through the religious congregation he founded known as the Christian Brothers, a group of consecrated men who have dedicated their lives to the development and institution of Christian Education.

The following is an excerpt of a reflection given by one of De La Salle’s predecessors, Brother William Harkens, FSC, during his keynote address for the Cardinal Spellman Retreat House back in April of 1988. The theme of his speech illustrates the dual-mission of those who are called to be educators in that they are considered to be both “Academic Teachers and “Ministers of Grace” in their vocation.

Enjoy!

The first Lasallian image or metaphor or analogy that I want to present is one that will be more familiar to us older folk than it is to the younger folk among us. It is the image of the guardian angel. Years ago when you went to grammar school you did not need to be reminded that your guardian angel was sitting next to you, invisible but definitely there with a clear job — to help keep you out of trouble. The guardian angel prayer said it all: angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me, ever this day at my side to guide and guard… Unambiguosly, De La Salle states that teachers must excel in two ways: tenderness and vigilance.

Caring and watchful like the guardian angel, the teacher finds every possible way to enlighten and assist students. The teacher is alert to any sign of trouble, in order to keep students out of danger. Thus, De La Salle writes that it is all too easy for children to trip and fall over a steep precipice. Therefore, they need the light of watchful guides. In meditating on the guardian angel, De La Salle writes,

“You will see clearly every obstacle … and keep away every harm.” (5th Meditation for the Time of Retreat)

Traditionally, angels have been associated with enlightenment. But De La Salle emphasizes that it is not enough for teachers to enlighten students. Listen to these three-hundred year old words of De La Salle. Remember that he was often dealing with young street kids. You may find that the watchful but compassionate roles assigned to the guardian angel continue to give some sense of what it means for a teacher to be a minister. De La Salle writes as follows:

(First) It is your duty to admonish the unruly in a way that will lead them to give up their former way of life. (Second) You must cheer the fainthearted, support the weak and be patient toward all. (6th MTR)

But as guardian angel, the teacher does more than admonish, more even than cheer up the fainthearted and support the weak. The teacher also tries to get youngsters to look out for each other. De La Salle writes:

Consider how teachers as ministers do this today. Consider also what it means for adults in a school to minister to each other: supporting and looking out for each other; encouraging each to be kind to one another, compassionate and mutually forgiving.

“You must help them be kind to one another, compassionate, mutually forgiving — just as God has forgiven them. You must help them love one another, just as Jesus Christ has loved them.” (6th MTR)

To see the complete text of this speech, please click here

May Jesus live in our hearts forever!