The Classroom and the Living Room
Every bright-eyed first-year teacher knows she is going to make an impact on her students’ lives. Like any good millennial, I was going to be something new, different, and special to each and every one of my sweet second graders. After four years of formation at an orthodox Catholic university, I was ready to conquer secularism and single-handedly form the next generation of devout Catholic minions.
On a humid morning near the end of August, I walked into my second grade classroom, full of the chatter and excitement of the first day of school. To calm everyone down, I said “Give me five” (a well-known phrase that meant “Be quiet now”). Twenty-six pairs of lips stopped moving and twenty-six chubby hands were raised in the air. Knowing right then and there that I perhaps was in for the ride of my life, I stared back at them, completely unsure what to do next.
As my years as a Catholic school teacher progressed, I learned many things aside from the stereotypical methods of math manipulatives or phonetic instruction. Perhaps most poignant was the realization that my teaching really did stop at the classroom door and that that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Parents then took the reins and usually reinforced what was taught in school at home. I learned very quickly that it does truly “take a village” to successfully raise a child, but it especially takes an involved parent. In my first year teaching in 2008, students with ready access to technology were few and far between. When I left the classroom in 2018, it was the norm. I don’t propose to demonize technology—you’re reading this precisely because technology exists—but it has, in certain ways, replaced a parent’s traditional role as nurturer, model of virtue, story-teller, and prompter of curiosity.
The most well-adjusted students I had were those with a healthy level of parental involvement in both the school and the child’s life. In my experience, both overly-involved (not to say meddling) parents, as well as passive, careless parents made for insecure and inarticulate children. One of my favorite memories from my own Catholic school years at home was when my mom read The Secret Garden to me as a bedtime story. Rather than “You’re acting ridiculous” when I was acting ridiculous, “You’re acting like Mary Lennox” became a much more effective correction. Children learn from story, and stories are especially memorable and poignant when their morals are reinforced in a two-pronged effort, both at home and at school. The collaborative approach that Catholic schools uniquely offer, acknowledging that parents are a child’s primary educators, sends a strong message in today’s app-based society: you can’t outsource parenting.
Ask a Catholic school alumnus or alumna about their favorite school memories. You will likely hear about First Communion celebrations, class camping trips, Grandparents’ Day, or eighth grade retreats. For me, it was undoubtedly Catholic Schools Week. My alma mater, Sts. Joseph and John Interparochial School (or SJJ), hosted a school-wide annual CSW pageant, which we began rehearsing around Halloween. While belting out tunes and doing a’la chicken dance routines on stage certainly had their merits (and we still joke about it when we run into each other in our hometown!), what has made those memories so sweet is the celebration of what we were, and what SJJ continues to be, as a Catholic school—a place that reinforces what is already taught at home: what is true, good, and beautiful.
Parents’ roles in education is not something to be underestimated, and my first-year-teaching self learned that very quickly. When I walked out of the classroom for the last time in 2018, after having spent twenty-six years within the walls of a Catholic school (as both a student and a teacher), I knew that the proverbial village was alive and well at many Catholic schools, and it truly is a beautiful thing. No man, as Donne said, is an island.
Brittany L. Higdon is a financial educator for young adults at www.basicbritt.com. A licensed Reading Specialist, she holds an M.Ed from University of Virginia, as well as a B.A. from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Brittany is a proud Cleveland native, currently living outside the nation’s capital with her two little dogs, Cannoli and Frickle.
If you liked this post, check out some of our other pieces here on the blog, like this author profile of St. Teresa, this post on the virtue of temperance, or this student essay on the work of J. R. R. Tolkien.