COLUMBIA—South Carolina’s Catholic school teachers spent three days praying together and learning from each other at the first Diocese of Charleston Teachers Educational Conference March 3-5.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone opened the event by celebrating Mass at St. John Neumann Church. It was attended by more than 300 people who recognized teachers and school staff members for their years of service.
Sister Julia Hutchison, SND, superintendent of Catholic schools, said more than 700 people attended the three-day conference. The main goals of the event included helping educators form a greater sense of community, renew their mission, network and share new ideas for the classroom.
“It was a wonderful event because almost all of the people involved were diocesan people related to the Catholic schools, from the presenters to cantors and musicians at the liturgy,” Sister Julia said. “I hope those who attended got a sense of the large Catholic school community in the diocese, of the great spirit that energizes Catholic school professionals here.”
Elementary school teachers met for workshops at St. John Neumann School, while middle and high school teachers were at Cardinal Newman School. Most of the 134 sessions were taught by diocesan teachers and staff, and about a dozen others featured guest speakers.
Topics ranged from innovative ways to teach academic subjects to sessions on how to keep a Catholic identity in an ecumenical world, encourage vocations and deal with the everyday stresses of being a teacher.
After the workshops ended, teachers of each grade level met in small groups with their peers and shared best practices, or ideas on how to teach certain subjects in a more innovative way. In one room, a first-grade teacher offered ideas on how to help young children learn punctuation, while down the hall fifth-grade teachers discussed how to teach research skills.
Later that night, teachers and principals met for a dinner in St. Joseph School gymnasium.
Bishop Guglielmone gave a keynote speech focusing on the purpose behind the work of Catholic educators. He said academic goals are obviously important, but Catholic schools also have a special mission to nurture students’ spiritual and moral development.
“Our schools are first and foremost places where we form human beings in their relationship with God,” he said. “If we can’t help form young people in that relationship, then we should shut our doors.”
He said Jesus Christ is the first and best model of compassion, and teachers need to stress his example in their daily work.
“Compassion, the ability to understand what the other person is going through, is something that doesn’t happen very often in our society,” the bishop said. “In so many instances, in schools competition has become so much more important than compassion. Individualism permeates just about every part of every life. A focus on compassion is one thing that should make us different from the rest of society.
“Jesus … became human to try to let us know that God’s love is enough for everybody,” he continued. “Original sin causes us to push others down, and does absolutely nothing in terms of raising us up. Compassion is shown when we reach out to others and start coming up together … lived compassion is one of the best kept secrets in humanity because it brings such joy.”
He said teachers must also develop their own sense of compassion because they frequently have to deal with students who are struggling with their work, with depression or disillusionment, or are going through difficult situations at home.
“Compassion for these students is not pity … pity suggests distance and condescension,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “Compassion is trying to understand how someone is suffering.”
After the conference ended, several teachers said they were leaving Columbia with a sense of renewal and purpose.
“The event was phenomenal,” said Beverly Toth, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Francis School on Hilton Head. “The best part was sharing with our peers and developing a real sense of camaraderie with each other.”
“I felt like we all truly were one family,” said Tori Rolack, who teaches K-4 at St. Peter School in Columbia. “The lesson of showing compassion in daily life really touched my heart, really inspired me and makes me want to continue with my work as a teacher.”