Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Solution to the Catholic Teacher Problem

Okay, I guess it isn't just Vocations Week here on Seraphic Singles; it's Nun Week. Since most of you want to get married and have babies--and why not? I almost always did---you may be getting impatient. But hey, after seven years of blogging, it's time I had a Nun Week, you know?

As we all know, Catholic education for girls used to done mostly by women religious. When I was in theology school, I heard a lot of moaning that these women were mostly under-educated and really didn't know much beyond what they had to teach infants and some of them walloped babies, etc., etc.* Incidentally, my mother used to be a Protestant, and she says teachers walloped children at her "public" (state) school, too. Walloping children is what almost all teachers used to do. Even Anne of Green Gables at last broke down and feruled bad little Anthony Pye. Of course some of these teachers, lay or religious, Catholic, Protestant and Freethinker, were probably sadistic jerks, and I don't quite get why there have been no class action suits against Britain's most notorious/famous public schools.

I believe that the women religious of days of yore were undereducated with the same fervour I believe that Emperor Constantine ruined the Christian church, and it was all increasingly downhill for Catholics until The New Pentecost of 1962, i.e. no fervour at all. One of the charms of religious life is that it gives you a lot of time for serious reading. And when she was in Carmel, Saint Edith Stein was perfectly willing to stop her intellectual work and just scrub the floor, but her wise superior eventually told her to stop scrubbing and go back to writing. When the Allies bombed her convent, the nuns and townsfolk scurried about saving her papers. (Mention that the next time people tell you the Catholic Church hates women.)

Nowadays, of course, most Catholic teachers are not sisters but layfolk, men and women, and in Canada and the UK, they get paid really well. In Ontario their pensions are fantastic. When my sister got a job with a Catholic board, I almost cried with happiness. Stable job for life, good pension, and it's an elementary school in X, so no drugs-and-sex problems to depress her. Also, my sister goes to Mass and comes from a Mass-attending Catholic family, so she is actually, you know, Catholic.

A woman I know here in Scotland is now homeschooling her children, so that they will have a Catholic education. Previously, she had sent them to Catholic schools. However, this ended when she discovered that (A) the "Catholic" teachers openly mocked principles of the Catholic faith and (B) the other "Catholic" kids made fun of her children for going to Mass on Sundays. Let's just say I was not shaken to the core with shock. That kind of thing happens back home in Canada, too, believe me.

But I don't want to dust all lay Catholic teachers with the same chalk-brush. My guess is that there are tens of thousands of Catholic teachers who are loyal to the Catholic faith, and tens of thousands more who would be loyal to the faith if priests and theologians stopped with the wink-wink-nudge-nudge stuff about sex, birth control, divorce, Mass attendence, "Rome" and the entire history of the Church between Constantine and 1962, except where it suits them (Hildegard! Mary Ward! St Francis in the dungeon! St. Ignatius in prison! Catholic Worker!). Still, how many Catholic parents are brave enough, or have the power to establish, what kind of Catholic teacher has the ears of their tiny tots or beautifully hulking adolescent from 9 AM to 3:00 PM?

I will now amaze you all by stating that my plan, if I had daughters, was not to send them to Catholic school at all but to, by hook or crook or harvested kidney, get them into one of the last surviving private girls' schools in Edinburgh and oversee their religious instruction myself. I would encourage them to make friends with girls from other devout families, be those families Presbyterian, Jewish, Catholic or Muslim. Anything rather than have them inoculated against the faith in a local Catholic school. A little bit of Catholicism can inoculate a child from the real, full-blown thing.

Naturally I would have preferred to send these sadly non-existent daughters to a proper convent school run by nuns, where not only would they have a Catholic education without any wink-wink-nudge-nudge, but examples of women who, unlike their mother, can get by in life without clandestine trips to the MAC counter and base flattery of anyone handsome in trousers. (A more serious-minded girl in the Ontario Students for Life movement dismissed me as "a party girl", and, alas, 'tis true, 'tis true. La la.)

But there aren't any proper convent schools within miles and miles because most of them have closed down, due not only to a lack of women religious to run them, but the new interest of women religious in advanced university degrees and proper careers. I once met a woman religious, from a once-famous teaching order, who worked in a factory as an engineer by day and returned to her apartment by night, which she may or may not have shared with another woman religious. I remember her because she was the bitterest nun I ever met in my life. She really hated the bishop of her diocese and felt marginalized by him, etc., etc. Amusingly, I had been experiencing a little tug towards religious life, but she cleared that right up.

Her memory makes me wonder if she might not have been happier as a science teacher in a girls' school, living in a proper, polished convent with a dozen or more nuns instead of one or none, singing Lauds and Vespers and cutting capers at Recreation. She might have inspired hundreds of girls to become engineers and tens of girls to become science-teaching women religious. Instead of longing with angry passion to be on the Bishop's advisory committee, she might have felt somewhat indifferent to the Bishop, or seen him as the much-prayed-for figurehead who preferred seedy cake with his tea, in contrast to the last one, a fiend for chocolate.

You can see where I am going with this. Yes. As usual, I am calling for Catholic Revolution, or Counter-Revolution, or the Restoration, whichever you like to call it. The thing to do, and many good girls are doing this, bless them, is to join real, solid, teaching orders with a healthy, loving attitude towards their spiritual ancestresses, not just the apparently super-feminist-and-rebellious-and-prophetic foundress. And those married Catholics in the near vicinity, if they won't actually starve to death, could make the sacrifices Catholics used to make for their children, to send their children to these nuns and to help out the nuns in any way they can, remembering always that they themselves are the primary educators of their children.

And now that I have said all that, I think I will find out if there IS a single good teaching order left in Scotland, so I can send them some money for their school.

*This is not to denigrate the sufferings of those who really did fall into the hands of horrible women in dysfunctional communities. To this very day, children end up in the hands of wicked adults who do unspeakable things while other adults turn a blind eye. Now that most of us know about this possibility, we can thoroughly scrub both kinds of behaviour--the abuse and the turning a blind eye--out of our societies.


HappyToBeHere said...

I was assuming that you have heard this now slightly old news, but when I read this post I thought maybe you hadn't ...

Seraphic said...

I have, but I don't know if they are actually teaching anyone yet. And they're sort of up north, in the Aberdeen diocese.

Bernadette said...

This post was a very interesting read for me, because when I think of the Catholic teacher problem, I tend to think of the hundreds of thousands of teachers our universities churn out each year, who then have enormous difficulty finding jobs. I think a lot of young women get education degrees with the idea that it's a career that would be compatible with getting married and having children. However, the requirements to teach in the US are going up (a Masters degree is increasingly required, plus going through various mentoring programs, plus Continuing Education requirements), which often means fantastic amounts of student debt. At the same time, there is enormous competition for the limited number of jobs available, salaries for teachers are not high, and teachers are sometimes expected to provide their own classroom supplies (crayons, tissues to wipe runny noses, etc). Catholic schools pay even less than the public schools. So a lot of them end up working for a pittance (if they can get work) while struggling to pay off crushing debts.

I have two friends with advanced teaching degrees who are getting by on occasional substitute teaching. When I met another friend, who has her Masters in education, she was working at McDonald's. My sister teaches Kindergarten and first grade. This year she's teaching in an inner city Catholic school (the one that ironically all of us graduated from). It's the first time she's ever made enough to do more than just barely scrape by, but she's working from 7am to 4 or 5pm, has no teaching assistant (which means that the only time she can go to the bathroom is when the kids go to gym class), and there is no janitor so she is expected to vacuum and mop on her own time.

I think the religious instruction in Catholic schools has improved enormously. It's worlds better than when I went through. But a lot of parents send their kids to Catholic schools, not because of the religious instruction, but because they provide a better education. My sister's school is a more extreme example, since it amounts to a Catholic ministry in a needy area (as my Archbishop says, it's the kind of thing we do because we are Catholic, not because the people we're ministering to are Catholic). There are maybe a couple dozen Catholic students in the entire school (K-8). So it gets interesting giving Catholic religious instruction to students who are mostly not Catholic.

All of this is to say that I agree with you that strong Catholic teaching orders providing excellent instruction in the faith would be a marvelous thing indeed. I just don't think you could sell most of those bright eyed Early Childhood Ed majors with dreams of babies of their own on the idea of the consecrated life.

Stellamaris said...

I think if I had daughters I would be a lot more vocal about the possibility of becoming a nun than my parents had. My parents are good Catholics, and certainly if any of us had decided we had a vocation they would have supported us. However, with the current cultural climate (few public habited religious, secular schooling, peer pressure to find a "partner"), I think it is crucial to be much more proactive about praising consecrated religious life in front of your kids - they just aren't going to get it from anywhere else.
Do I think I might have been a nun if my parents had done this? I don't know. At this point, I suppose it's academic. I certainly don't feel called to the religious life now, though your description of the Profession a couple of days ago was very moving!

Seraphic said...

I'm beginning to worry a lot about how much debt your generation has.

Anonymous said...

@Seraphic - lol, not as much as WE worry about it!

Seraphic said...

THAT'S true, although an entire generation in debt affects everybody in society.

My head is still reeling at the idea of American Catholic girls mortagaging their futures to Sallie Mae or other lenders to take jobs at schools so poorly funded that not only are teachers paid a pittance, they are expected to give crayons to welfare-dependent children, while paying taxes to support those welfare-dependent children. That sounds simply insane to me. How can you possibly live like that?

Bernadette said...

My sister was lucky enough to get into a program in which you get your Masters paid for in exchange for teaching in underprivileged Catholic schools. Her first assignment was in San Antonio, Texas. Her Kindergarten classroom as absolutely bare - nothing but desks and a blackboard. No books, no toys, no play-dough, no carpet for story time, nothing. She was expected to provide all of that herself. Some of her friends and family banded together and shipped off what we could scrape together in a hurry, but it was just a drop in the bucket.

Nzie said...

I guess I can give you some relief about the debt, which is that there is a public interest loan forgiveness program in the U.S. So if I worked as a prosecutor or public defender and had 10 years of not missing a payment (amount based on salary), my debt will be forgiven. And those 10 years don't have to be continuous. I don't know if teaching in a Catholic school would have the same effect for someone getting their M.Ed. but I've had friends who've gotten M.Ed.'s and they seem okay.

Stellamaris, I appreciate that my parents were vocal, but I'd say do it carefully. My dad encouraged me to consider the habit once driving me to the airport to go back to college. I'm not firmly against it, but it felt a bit like, "You're never going to get married," even though I'm sure that's not what he meant.

TRS said...

If I had known I was going to be 43, never married with no children.... I would have at least given thought to becoming a nun.
I was so certain I was destined to have a family, I never even considered it.

PolishTraveler said...

Strangely enough I was actually debated the merits of Catholic education at lunchtime today with an Indian co-worker whose is not Catholic but for a long time chose to send her kids to Catholic school precisely because of the high education standards and good environment for the kids.

I think personally I would have been more inspired to join a young, happy teaching nun order if I had had a different experience in a Polish high school (run by nuns). Unfortunately, there was only one that was intellectually inspiring, and none of them awakened any spiritual vocational longings in our hearts (the one vocation of my class was a girl that already knew she wanted to become a nun in elementary school). It's unfortunate, but so much is done by example - if I had had a least inspiring, passionate young soul teaching me I think my path would have been different.

PolishTraveler said...

I meant "at least one inspiring, passionate young soul".

Julia said...

Excuse my pitiful ignorance, but how do student loans in the US work? Is the debt to the federal/state government or to private lenders like banks? My debt is to the Australian Tax Office.

Knowing about the difficulties that North American students face makes me want to roll my eyes when some whingeing Australian students carry on about whatever.

Jo said...

I was so annoyed as a teenager that so many of the female teachers at my 'Catholic' high school were either not Catholic or were but seriously dissented from most core elements of the faith-especially the religion teachers! All after I had begged and begged my parents not to send me to public school because I couldn't bear to spend my days without apologetics and theology classes. I spent far too much energy arguing with my teachers about the fundamentals of the faith...once I even had a religion teacher who point blank told me that if I didn't 'correct' a draft of a paper to endorse a moral principle contrary to Church teaching, she would reduce my score by a letter grade. There wasn't just an absence of good models of the religious life, but an absence of good, faithful, female role models, period. Not that high school is necessarily a pleasant experience for anyone, but it felt especially isolating because of this. Virtually all of the faithful teachers and mentors I respected and was inspired by were men. With the culture of some Catholic schools, I'd be surprised if faithful, orthodox women could even get hired, religious or not.

Some number of Catholic schools, like mine, haven steadily fallen victim to having the identity of a 'fancy prep school' where the 'faith' dimension of education is just a superficial, fluffy side perk. With a 'mixed' student population, they don't want to 'offend' anyone of another faith by actually teaching any theology above a 2nd grade level, all while they urge us on to do college-level chemistry and math. Lots of parents choose these schools so their kids can have the privilege of being on a good hockey team, or out of hopes that a 'nice' school will keep them away from drugs & the like--a shrinking number choose them because they're Catholic.

Well Nzie, we'll see if that forgiveness program is still around when people will first be eligible to apply for it (in 2017, the ten-year mark from the date the bill was passed). Politicians love to talk up how much they are helping needy indebted students, but as of now, exactly $0 has actually been forgiven (!). At least for teachers, it depends on the kind of school you're teaching at-most Catholic school teachers likely won't be eligible, but they could be if they teach in a particularly high-poverty area, even if it's a religious school. But on the other hand, there are some great programs for Catholic teachers, like ACE, that fund your M.Ed. for your while you teach in underserved schools (but unlike Teach for America, they are actually given proper personal and professional support). The same is true for librarians who work in less-developed urban areas (a profession, I might add, that has particularly embarrassing placement rates for new, freshly qualified finishers of MS programs-one year after graduation, roughly 20% of graduates in the US will have a full-time job--20%! I've thanked my lucky stars every day after hearing that statistic for the first time.).

Jo said...

And Julia-student loans in the US are a jungle. Schools award financial aid packages that often include federal loans instead of scholarships (a lot of them interest free, but still money you have to repay to the the number of academic scholarships are falling, while athletic scholarships are growing, surprise surprise). If that doesn't cover all your tuition (which it often doesn't, especially if you are at a private school, but increasingly at state schools as well), you apply separately to private banks for student loans for the amount you "need" (which leads many students to idiotically include 'living expenses' in this amount as well). This is where the commercialization of 'educational finance' has really become sickening. Student loans are the easiest form of credit for anyone to get, because banks know that college is still seen as 'essential' or at least the path 'to the American dream.' It is embarrassingly easy for students to get loans, even if they come from a family with a sub-par credit history, although their interest rates will be higher (for all the work to get admitted to university, few students care to read or understand all the fine print). While there are limited forgiveness programs for federal loans, you can't get the same kind of help with private loans-they can't even be dissolved/consolidated, etc. in bankruptcy OR IN DEATH (if there's a surviving co-signer) like most other kinds of debt can be. Some smart employers with the resources have begun to offer additional assistance for repaying student loans to new employees on top of their salary as a recruiting and retention tool.

While this is making life difficult now for many young adults and families, there certainly will be serious consequences in the future. But if anything, for those of us who are saddled with significant student debt, it does serve as a constant reminder that we are called to holiness, not to a perfect credit score. Our happiness is not defined by our autonomy and material freedom, but how we choose to live each day in service of God and each other. In the grand scheme of things, everything is a gift.

Julia said...

Jo, thanks for explaining that. It sounds like a minefield. and yeah, I'm not surprised that academic scholarships are being reduced in favour of sport scholarships. Sport scholarships to university don't really exist in Australia (our university sport scene is very amateur, I believe - sport is not at all a dominant part of campus culture here), but Australia is frustratingly sports-crazy anyway.

I went to a Catholic girls' school until the end of year 10. I remember being a young teenager and thinking to myself before going to class, "Okay, which church teachings am I going to have to defend today?" Some of the staff there had some serious doctrinal issues. When I was in year 7, an old Irish priest spoke to my class and expressed strong support for women's ordination. I challenged him. The teacher didn't, as far as I recall. I'm sort of annoyed that standing up for what's actually in the Catechism was left up to me alone when I was only 13 years old.

I went to a state school after that, but not because I'd given up on Catholic schools or anything. The state school concerned had a specialist programme I wanted to be a part of.

Athanasius lover said...

I am fortunate to teach in a Catholic school where the faith is actually taught and upheld. I am a member of the Theology and Foreign Language departments, teaching junior level theology and all levels of Latin.

Our Theology department is full of orthdox Catholic teachers, including a priest and two nuns. We have two other nuns, one of whom teaches German and the other who works in the counseling department. Two of them are from the Ann Arbor Dominicans, and all four wear habits. They came here after our diocesan bishop instructed that Catholic high schools in our diocese have a greater presence of female religious.

I don't know enough about all the teachers in all of the other departments to speak for them, but most of the ones I know are committed to their faith and view it as an important part of their teaching. One of them, an English teacher, told me there are things that she disagrees with the Church on but that she would never let on to that in the classroom.

I don't know why anyone would choose to teach at a Catholic school if he or she wasn't committed to supporting Catholic teachings and values, because teaching in a Catholic school in the United States pays an extremely low salary. A former classmate of mine and I had the same education in terms of advanced degrees, and we both teach Latin. She got a job in a public school and her starting salary was 33% higher than mine. Each year we each get more money, but her salary increases more than mine does each year, so that gap will only grow.

The problem we have in our school is that many of the students come from families who do not practice their faith. About 90% of our students are Catholic, but estimates are that only 50% of them come from families who go to Mass every Sunday and encourage their students to do the same. Many of our students support same-sex marriage and are vocal in their disagreement when the school as a whole or an individual teacher presents the Church's teaching. There are also the students who are in a rebellious period and, unfortunately, are looking forward to being away from high school and their parents when they go to college so they don't have to go to Mass anymore.

On the other hand, we have many wonderful students committed to going deeper in their faith. I see some of them at Mass (there are many parishes in our area with many Mass times, so even though I only see a few of them, I know more than the ones I see still go). One of my students went to seminary after he graduated last year. And we're striving to do better as a school at reaching out to our students and helping them own the faith for themselves.

Anamaria said...

I would definitely find a way to send my kids to a Catholic school run by nuns in habits. Definitely.

In regards to teaching, schools where teaching is actually a good job for a woman with kids are few and far between. For the most part, teaching is not something that really leaves time and energy left over for one's own family. The pay is so small that when you have young kids, you really don't make much- I did some rough calculations and here in Oklahoma you could make as much tutoring ten hours a week as you could if you taught and had one kid in decent day care- and then, of course, you can care for your child! The day I really decided that I would get out of teaching once I had kids was when I shadowed the best middle school math teacher in our archdiocese: she told me that she spends two hours every night working, after thirty years of teaching.

Despite "retiring" from teaching, I am grateful for being able to teach the years I did, and get to know those funny, awkward twelve and thirteen year olds. For me, at least, it was a clear direction for my "spiritual motherhood" that Edith Stein and others talk about. In my post-college years before teaching, my undirected desire to mother was one of the most difficult things for me. By the time I started teaching, I didn't mind at all that I was mothering other people's children.

Seraphic said...

Well, I wonder if the problems of state-funded Catholic education in Canada, the UK and Australia are the exact opposite of the problems of private parochial Catholic schools in the US. Our teachers (especially in Canada) are paid great salaries, so there's a huge incentive to be a Catholic school teacher, whether or not you believe anything the Church teaches. But in the USA, it is such a financial hardship to be a Catholic school teacher, only committed Catholics would really want to be a Catholic school teacher.

I don't know what the solution is, short of American Catholic teachers emigrating to Canada.

Julia said...

Athanasius Lover, if your school has a 50% student Sunday Mass attendance rate, it is doing far, far better than pretty much any Catholic school in Australia. And it sounds like most of the staff at your school attend Mass too. Perhaps I'm too cynical, but I doubt many teachers at Australian Catholic schools bother.

I believe that Catholic schools pay good teacher salaries in Australia (better than the state school salaries, although teachers in any Australian system are paid pretty well). Catholic schools are also seen as offering better facilities and achieving better results than state schools. Non-practising Catholic (and non-Catholic) parents here send their children to Catholic schools because although fees must be paid, the fees are lower than those at independent or private schools, so the parents probably see Catholic schools as a way of getting a cheap private school education for their kids.

TRS said...

I just saw this video over at blog
girls just want to be nuns
Thought you might appreciate it.