Moreau, Blessed Basil Anthony Mary. Christian Education. Le Mans: Julien Printing Shop, Lanier & Company, Place des Halles, 12, 1856. Imprimatur Cenomani, die 26 janii 1856 Jacobus, Ep. Cen.
“Those who teach justice to many will shine like the stars for all eternity” — Daniel 12:3
Pedagogy derives from two Greek words—that for child and that for leading. It is the art of helping young people to completeness. For the Christian, this means that education is helping a young person to be more like Christ, the model for all Christians. From the word’s roots, we can interpret pedagogy to mean “leading a young person away from ignorance and disorder.” In this way it consists precisely in the reforming of human nature, which has been weakened by original sin. This reforming involves restoring to rational processes the light that existed before the fall of our first parents and then restoring to the heart the kinds of feelings and sentiments that ought to reside there. This notion of pedagogy is founded on the principles of Catholicism and makes educating young people a most important work for those who try to perform it—it truly makes education the art of arts. It is very important that educators in our schools be trained in the art of education before trying to exercise the skill. It is an obligation of those in charge of the schools with which we are associated to help anyone who teaches at them. The educators will need direction to complete their preparation, because they will usually be unprepared to educate in the way I am describing. It is also important that those in charge of the schools with which we are associated understand the importance of this unified effort. Educators must also know what is involved in operating a school according to these principles. This belief, more than anything else, is what has inspired this document.
Teachers and their Relationships with Students
A Call to Be a Teacher. Since God alone provides the means for the successful accomplishment of any task, it seems evident that a person needs to be called by God to be an effective teacher. Without this call to teaching, how will anyone be able to put up with everything that teachers face daily? From the time the school year begins, teachers do not have a moment’s rest or a moment free. Every good teacher is preoccupied with the care and the progress of students, with their schoolwork, and with the small and bothersome difficulties that inevitably arise in dealing with young people. Teachers will find it difficult to care seriously for their own spiritual needs and their own interests.
Relationships with young people are always difficult. Sometimes those who deal with young people attach themselves too closely to the young and end up giving themselves over strictly to human affections. Finding among their students young people who are frank and open, who are moving towards accomplishing good things, who respond well to the care they are providing, some teachers forget the place of God in the relationship between teacher and student. Learning this often surprises teachers, since it is easily hidden by enthusiasm, kindness, and even duty.
Teachers who experience close relationships with their students become totally occupied with them: every place they go the students come to mind; no matter what they do, they think of the students. Teachers like these often enter into unhealthy relationships of all kinds with their students, often without realizing what is happening.
Christian educators really need a call from God in order to deal with all that they face in working with young people. How else can teachers possibly work towards building Christian values in the young as well as towards giving them the knowledge they need? For the religious, this call to education comes in obedience.
Faithfulness. Faithfulness is a virtue that draws us to fulfill faithfully our duties to God. Saint Paul has said that piety is necessary for everyone because it is the opening to all that God has promised us.
What about teachers without this virtue? They are left with only their own resources, complete their tasks without real excitement and even with negligence, and are unable to teach all of the values and responsibilities contained in a Christian education. They have no concern or desire to teach or to practice the life of a Christian; prayer and the sacraments are not important to them. While these teachers may be able to help students develop intellectually, and though they may pass on some knowledge that is useful in life, the important knowledge that students need —the knowledge that leads them to the totality and completeness of the Christian life—is neglected. Such teachers may develop scholars, but they will not develop Christians. They have forgotten the essence of their mission—the development of the heart and the soul, on which good values depend. Consequently, their true goals are forgotten. The tender plants that these teachers have to cultivate will show real potential in their hands, but for lack of real care they will perish, because they have not received the true nourishment they need.
How different, on the contrary, is the result with those students who have been given truly reverent teachers. Convinced that the Lord Himself has given them the students they are instructing and are responsible for, reverent teachers will try above all to bring their students to the completeness of the Christian life. Such teachers see their students’ souls more than they see their students’ bodies. They know that young people have been won at the price of the shedding of the Lord’s blood, and they consider them adopted children of God and temples of the Spirit. Their enthusiasm for their work increases because of this. Their major duty becomes instruction in the faith, and with untiring patience they help students learn to pray. They do not cease reminding students of Christian commitments , the works of God, and the effects of the sacraments. Finally, this kind of teacher helps students become able to deal with the values they will find opposed to Christianity and inspires in students a devotion to the sacred.
The Lord will bless such efforts and reward such enthusiasm with the greatest results. Anyone entering a Christian school will be able to note the reverence of the students. They grow from day to day both in knowledge and in Christian values. Those who have formed students in such a way “will shine like the stars of the heavens for all eternity.”
Knowledge. If, as Saint Paul says, “knowledge without faith makes one proud” and thus becomes dangerous, it is likewise true that faith without knowledge makes a teacher useless and compromises the honor of the teacher’s mission. That is why Daniel, speaking of the reward prepared for those who teach others, does not assume that teachers must be merely “just,” and hence reverent, but also “learned and knowledgeable.” Without knowledgeable teachers, what can be said to families who want their children to acquire all the learning needed to earn a good position in life? “You cannot give what you do not already have.” This axiom applies to teaching as well—it would be useless for a person to try to teach who did not possess the knowledge sufficient to achieve the goals of instruction.
Teachers themselves should definitely have enough knowledge and instruction to be able to deal with questions that are only indirectly connected with the subjects they are presenting and be able to make lessons interesting and complete. In order to succeed in acquiring a superior degree of knowledge, teachers must have a constant desire for self-improvement and lose no opportunity to satisfy this ambition when it is not detrimental to their other duties.
To teach with success, teachers must know good methods, be skillful in applying these methods, have clear ideas, be able to define exactly, and possess language that is easily understood and correct. All of these skills are acquired and perfected only through study. I think we must assume that good teachers are not content simply with obtaining a degree or a credential to show their capabilities, but that they also try to increase their knowledge even further by studying as much as they can. In this way teachers are able to meet the qualifications required of them.
Zeal. Zeal is the great desire to make God known, loved, and served, and thus to bring knowledge of salvation to others. Activity flows from this virtue. Teachers who possess it fulfill the duties of their profession with enthusiasm, love, courage, and perseverance. When they see young people who lack knowledge and Christian values, they experience what Saint Paul felt when he wrote to those he had evangelized: “My children for whom I labor again and again until Christ is within you.” That statement, in fact, is the goal of all Christian education. To reach it, teachers must neglect nothing.
Teachers who have this virtue will be happy only when their students progress in the knowledge of virtue. All day and each day they will work at this great and difficult task of Christian education. When they pray, when they study, when they receive the sacraments, it will be especially for “their young people.” This will be done without distinction or regard for any student as special, because such teachers know that all students are equally important to God and that their duty is to work with each with the same devotion, watchfulness, and perseverance.
If at times you show preference to any young person, it should be the poor, those who have no one else to show them preference, those who have the least knowledge, those who lack skills and talent, and those who are not Catholic or Christian. If you show them greater care and concern, it must be because their needs are greater and because it is only just to give more to those who have received less. You must be “all things to all people,” like Saint Paul—little with the little, great with the great, seeing in all only the image of God imprinted within them like a sacred seal that you must preserve at all cost.
Teachers animated by such a spirit do not simply follow what is generally accepted in the profession but have a thousand little ways to encourage progress in even the weakest and least-talented students and challenge all students to their highest performance.
Such teachers know how to maintain silence when required, to keep students at work when required, and to maintain proper order without using punishments-neither threats nor reprimands. Such teachers use any occasion to provide models for young people and to communicate about God, Jesus Christ, and the students’ souls. Since the zeal of these teachers is guided by love, they do everything with strength and with gentleness: with strength because they are courageous and unshakable in the midst of any difficulties they face; with gentleness because they are tender and compassionate like Jesus Christ, the model for all teachers, who loved to be bothered by young people.
Without this virtue of zeal among teachers in a school, everything changes. Everything falls apart. There is ignorance, disorder, bad conduct, and the true corruption of young people—these are what families experience through the faintheartedness and indifference of teachers without zeal. They are put in the midst of young people and cause the ruin of a great number of them. Thus, the virtue of zeal is necessary for a Christian teacher.
Vigilance. The word vigilance is connected with watchfulness and hence signifies alertness. It is a virtue that makes us attentive to our duties. Vigilant teachers forget nothing of what they ought to do and do not become distracted from what they ought to be thinking about, seeing, hearing, or doing. There is nothing more necessary for teachers than this constant watchfulness over themselves and their students.
Teachers need to watch themselves in order to conduct themselves as they should in front of young people, who closely study their teachers’ faults and notice any weaknesses. Do not forget that young people are naturally observant and that they see all and hear all: Teachers are greatly mistaken if they believe that they do not have to be concerned with what students see or hear if the students are occupied with all of the distractions that go with being young.
Teachers need to watch, above all, over the young people placed in their care. Indeed, they are the spiritual parents of these young people. How else will teachers be able to carry out their responsibilities to the families that rely on them to help develop good values in their children? From the moment teachers accept charge of young people for their education they become guardians. This vigilance does involve some annoying, tiring, and disquieting things, especially for those who are new to the profession. Until they have responsibility for their first classes, teachers don’t realize the concerns that often bother those in positions of responsibility and authority. When they are put in charge of a class, they often experience a loss of calm and peace and create anxieties for themselves that are contrary to what should be motivating them. Looking out for students becomes a heavy responsibility and a real problem, since it leads teachers to dislike their work and even question their calling. I caution young teachers not to take this virtue to the extreme.
Teachers must keep their vigilance within reasonable limits and not imitate those who are always in a state of great alarm, often over some childish prank that they are unable to evaluate correctly. Those who are too vigilant are unaware that a great talent of good teachers is often to pretend not to notice what he or she does not want to be obliged to punish. An indulgence prudently managed is worth much more than outbursts and the punishments that follow them. Always avoid this embarrassing vigilance. It is revolting to students and unbearable for teachers. Let your watchfulness and attention be calm, without over-concern, without agitation or trouble, without great constraint or affectation. But also avoid the opposite, which involves carelessness, distraction, unwillingness to act, and tardiness, which are all contrary to this virtue of vigilance.
Seriousness. Seriousness comes through faithfulness to self-control. It is impossible for teachers to be truly serious unless they are able to control their exterior selves. Seriousness, however, does not force a person into pedantry or affectation. Teachers should carefully avoid mean and threatening looks, gloomy and scowling faces, angry voices, and bitter, biting, and satirical words. The aim of seriousness is not to intimidate students, to keep them from showing themselves as they really are, to make them afraid of making mistakes, or to hinder the development of good qualities that might exist in them. Seriousness does not in any way exclude kindness, tenderness, or an affable way with students, which can win them over and lead them with docility.
Seriousness is a virtue that assumes a mental maturity and wisdom in the one who possesses it, along with a real faith in the presence of God. It is a virtue that requires noble sentiments and true humility. It will give you the dignity in attitude that inspires respect, commands attention, and enables you to exercise the authority and leadership that you need.
Although seriousness does not rule out affection for young people, neither does it permit too great a familiarity with them, and it doesn’t allow unseemly clowning, childish pranks and jokes, and ridiculous punishments that will discredit the teacher and earn the dislike of students. Teachers who wish to maintain this virtue in their lives guard against giving any particular student too great attention. This is the way one most often loses this virtue. It is the responsibility of a young teacher especially to develop this virtue in order not to lose the dignity of the mission of teaching and the respect that the teacher is owed by students.
Gentleness. It was the Lord Himself who said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” There is no other conclusion to be reached than that in the overseeing of the mind and heart of a young person and in the effective use of authority in a school, a teacher needs to possess gentleness. Gentleness is the filling of the soul with the Spirit so as to moderate the anger that arises when a person feels irritated towards those who have caused some injury. It is the result of a patience that never tires and of a self-control that keeps everything under the guardianship of reason and faith.
Given that, one can understand the need of such a virtue in teachers, for to fulfill their mission successfully teachers must make themselves liked by their students. Gentleness is the only way in which they will succeed in the task of bringing out love in their students. You are aware of the statement “love causes love.” As people, we are built so that. Young people are very impressionable and are especially prone to this. They relate easily and happily with those from whom they hope and expect to receive reciprocal love and confidence. Feelings of love and respect between teachers and students are the result of charity and gentleness, inseparable virtues that cannot exist independently of one another. Saint Francis de Sales himself says that meekness is “the very flower of charity.”
Teachers who are meek and who follow the example of Jesus Christ lose none of their authority and do not stress what is hard and severe in authority. They put themselves in their students’ places. They try to persuade their students that they will find in their teachers tender and devoted friends who understand them. Considering themselves as taking the place of those who have entrusted young people to them, gentle teachers borrow from the father and the mother positive feelings toward young people. Everything in such teachers bears the stamp of this virtue: They avoid judging with harshness and anger, and they do not rely on exaggerated confidence in themselves. They are always guided by a heart full of compassion and kindness and make their decisions without stubbornness or injustice. They do not say things that will hurt the feelings of young people and do not make fun of students, as people who often feel injured by the statements or actions of another do. Gentleness overcomes those tendencies to self-love and shuts out the desire for revenge. Gentleness permits teachers to endure all the adversities and unpleasant experiences and occurrences that go hand in hand with schooling and to proceed with complete calmness of spirit.
Gentleness begets a number of other good qualities: sensibility, good will, and a pleasant manner of acting and speaking. Gentleness permits teachers to remove what is harsh from a command, permits teachers to participate in activities with young people, leads teachers to be able to talk and discuss matters with students, permits teachers to sympathize with students who are often upset over things that are not important, and permits teachers to assist students when they are not feeling well or when they are depressed. Teachers filled with meekness can show an interest and an affection for young people that will win hearts. In class such teachers treat students with politeness, answer their questions with patience, and help keep students from punishments as much as possible by keeping them out of situations that are likely to lead them to misbehavior and punishment.
Gentle teachers will never be seen to inflict punishment when they are overly angry and upset. They will never push to the limit a student who is ready to react with anger and an outburst. Since these teachers are more disposed to reward than to punishment, whenever someone guilty of an offense wishes to return to a positive relationship, they pardon the student and show even more respect and friendship to that student than before. Gentle teachers also look upon school as their mission. Far from being a source of boredom and disappointment, classes become a real pleasure. This simply supports the statement of the wise person who said, “Do everything with gentleness and you will attract not only the respect but the love of other people.”
Teachers who have drawn such gentleness from Jesus Christ will be blessed and happy. They will truly be the important people in their school, and they will cause Jesus Christ to be the important person there. Loved by their students and respected by the parents, who will be so happy to have found such excellent teachers for their children, they will be rewarded with blessings from the entire school community and will go through life “doing good works.” Their memory will remain engraved upon the hearts of those students whom they have brought to the fullness of Christianity, and they will be a model to imitate and an example to follow.
Sad results flow from teachers who lack these qualities. Teachers who make no effort to acquire the gentleness of mind and heart that was recommended by Jesus Christ are really to be pitied. In their classes, they are annoyed and angered over every little thing. They shout, talk harshly, and carry on in all kinds of ways. Their rude and harsh approach intimidates and frightens students without their realizing that these actions can compromise them in the eyes of their students and the students’ families. They injure their students by making fun of their inadequacies, or their families, or their ethnic background. They call their students names. They impose exaggerated and unjust punishments on some; they require of others assignments and duties beyond the range of their abilities or experience. They cause students to lose a love of learning and to develop a distaste for school. Such conduct on the part of teachers earns them scorn and dislike; students try to find all kinds of ways of getting away from them and look for all kinds of ways to displease them. Not only will these teachers be unable to bring students to the fullness of Christianity, but they will also be unable to give students the knowledge and the instruction that are owed them. It would have been better if such teachers had never entered a classroom and attempted the difficult art of teaching.
Patience. Anyone who knows young people easily recognizes the necessity of patience, which is the only thing that permits a teacher to rise above the difficulties inherent in educating youth. Patience is most necessary in directing a group of young people from very diverse backgrounds and training. Teachers often need to speak to one student, to answer another student and probably several at the same time, to help others reason out situations when they seem often to have little use for reason, to repeat many times the same thing without seeing any results, to calm those who are too lively, to move forward those who move slowly, to correct those who need correcting, to prepare others to accept responsibility—and it seems that all of this goes on at the same time. Teachers seem not to have a moment for themselves amid the activity that is constantly going on in a school.
Without the virtue of patience, teachers would have difficulty enduring the qualities that are so natural to young people: making life difficult for a teacher, refusing to follow directions, upsetting the class, promoting a bad spirit among other students, and ridiculing and making fun of teachers. Some students mock teachers’ voices and gestures; some will complain without cause to their parents, who will immediately assume that what they are being told is the truth. The many difficulties that teachers face would dishearten those who have entered teaching with real hopes of accomplishment. But teachers need to remember that they have received a call and resist such trials with all the means given to them through patience. If you know how to build patience, a calmness will come to you and peace will exist around you. Patience is the shield against which all these difficulties are blunted.
Teachers who do not know patience cannot restrain themselves, and they often show their lack of patience in harsh or imprudent words. They often carry on in all sorts of ways, even becoming violent, and in a burst of anger, as ridiculous as scandalous, will lose all control. They will even go so far as to physically abuse their students. Losing self-control lowers them in the eyes of their students. The first cause of all of that is a lack of patience. With a little more energy and self-control, teachers can prevent these excesses. Little by little, time will calm first prejudices, soften reactions, and lead to reasonable conclusions. Right reason always ends by triumphing over all obstacles. It is through patience that “you will possess your soul in peace.”
Prudence. Prudence is the virtue that helps us decide the best way of reaching our goals and that helps us work against obstacles standing in the way of reaching them. To understand the necessity of prudence, we only have to reflect on our purpose as Christian educators. We cannot compromise our mission or hinder its progress by acting imprudently in directing our schools.
Society does not permit us the luxury of mistakes in this area: Often it takes just a minor imprudent act to ruin the reputation of a solidly established school. Teachers and administrators must take extra care to employ prudence so that they don’t prejudice the people in the area around the school. It would be helpful to new teachers if they had a greater experience of people and events in the area before they come to teaching, but only a limited experience is possible. Teachers in a school are of necessity in contact with three different groups of people: the students, the parents, and the society in which the school exists. These groups place different demands upon the school and the teachers that must be satisfied in order for the school to exist in reasonable peace with each group. No matter what skilled teachers do, it is likely that some opposition will arise against them from time to time, especially among those who already look upon a particular school with an unfavorable bias. Teachers should expect to be criticized regularly in their careers: some people will complain about their way of teaching, others will complain about their discipline; some will say that their students don’t make any progress, others will say that they are unjust in giving awards.
Teachers who always act with prudence will know how to make light of all this complaining insofar as it is false and unjust, and they will be able to take care of those areas in which they should make some improvement. The best way to avoid such accusations is to use the following principles: study and distinguish the makeup of students in order to treat each one according to his or her specific needs, and prepare classes well. By reviewing the materials that make up the subject matter of lessons there will be no confusion of ideas and there will be clarity of expression on the part of the teacher. These two principles will assist teachers who believe that their mission is important. It is impossible for a teacher to educate well without fully preparing for the task daily. Cleverness can never substitute adequately for preliminary work and preparation, and most of the time teachers who rely on their own cleverness fall into the use of old materials, repetitions, and digressions. Often some teachers have the illusion that the lesson or material is so simple, so easy, and so elementary that they require no preparation.
No teaching, however, requires more preparation than the teaching of young people. There is nothing more difficult than helping young minds begin building a fund of knowledge—minds often with small capacity and very few ideas. It is not easy to help students with inattentive and unskilled minds move toward study and reflection. Teachers must practice becoming like young people, borrowing their language, taking their ideas, and placing all they say into the young people’s limited area of knowledge. This kind of teaching requires real skill and devotion. Teachers who do not prepare for it are acting outside of the counsels of prudence.
Consider teachers who are imprudent enough and presumptuous enough to dare running a class without looking ahead to what they are going to say or do. They enter the class without books or materials. They tend to talk at the top of their voice when they should be silent, saying whatever comes into their minds without considering the worth of what is being said or the importance of their opinions. They do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not even listen to those with more experience. There exists great disorder in their explanations, making them incoherent and practically unintelligible to the students. They deny one day what they have rashly advocated on a previous day, and they often contradict what they have said before. The result of all this is boredom and dislike on the part of students. The students, condemned to listen, yawn or sleep and do not know what to do during the class. They waste their time and begin to take on a dislike of learning and study. This dislike may stay with them for a long time, since that is one of the peculiarities of youth: The impressions and experiences of youth tend to leave an indelible trace during an entire life. It is important for young people, then, to learn early the habits of work and application. A skillful and prudent teacher is able to profit from this peculiarity of youth and give students a good and solid education from the beginning.
Prudence, then, is of the greatest importance. Experience is one sure path for acquiring it, but there is another upon which we must all rely: an openness to the Lord, especially in prayer. Ask the Lord for prudence; pray to the “author of all wisdom” that you will be given the light and necessary graces to direct and lead you in everything with the prudence and wisdom necessary to teach.
Firmness. The Bible, in speaking of the way in which God governs the world, says that Providence guides everything with “strength” and with “gentleness.” That is the model that teachers must follow if they wish to succeed in educating young people.
Without gentleness, they will never truly get their students to have the love of work, application, and good behavior that are all essential conditions of success. On the other hand, if they lack firmness and steadfastness, they will not be able to maintain discipline in class. This virtue is needed to raise teachers above all the difficulties inherent in education, to help them remain unshakable in the course of their duties without becoming discouraged in a task that is troublesome and tiring.
Teachers always must keep an eye on their classes in order to stop any movement towards disorder, wherever it occurs. If students find too great a weakness in a teacher or a softness in demanding compliance, they will permit themselves disorders of all sorts. They will laugh at the threats of such teachers and not even perform the penances given, because they know that the teacher will not push them to the limit and will end by giving in. From the time you enter the school, then, hold to a firm and assured course, know how to make yourself obeyed, and communicate to students that you absolutely demand compliance with your regulations.
Conclusion. From what has been said above, one can conclude that you’re the teacher’s mission is difficult and requires hard work. It requires a great devotion in order to continue in the calling as a teacher. With the eyes of faith consider the greatness of the mission and the wonderful amount of good that one can accomplish. And also consider the great reward promised to those who have taught the truth to others and have helped form them into justice: “They will shine eternally in the skies like the stars of the heavens.” With the hope of this glory, we must generously complete the Lord’s work.
Students and Student-Teacher Relations
It would be a serious mistake to open a school imagining that all the students will be alike in character and conduct. Providence varies all of its works. If two plants of the same family, apart from similar characteristics, have obvious differences, it is no less true that in the group of students given to you there are no two who have the exact same mind and heart. It will do little good then to use the same procedures in working with every student. You would be like a doctor who always gives the same remedy for every illness.
This in itself should be enough to point out the importance of beginning the year or semester by studying your students. If you are taking the place of another teacher in a class, it is important to gain all of the information the other teacher can give you about the students. In order to facilitate this study, which requires a lot of attention, there are some things you can look for to help you understand the different types of students you will be educating.
You can use the following information to determine the most suitable way to approach each student. Never forget that all teaching lies in the best approach to an individual student, that all the successes you find will be in direct proportion to the efforts you have made in this area. In the different natures of young people, one can actually distinguish several characteristics marking them as poorly brought up or spoiled by their parents, unintelligent, self-centered, opinionated, insolent, envious, without integrity, immature, lazy, or in poor health.
Young People Who Are Spoiled or Have Poor Upbringing. There are young people for whom parents show little care. These young people never do what their parents want, never follow directions, and murmur at the least thing that goes against what they think they desire. They are often dirty, disgusting, and unpolished. They are sometimes impertinent, impolite, teasing, and extravagant, openly yawning, making faces, mimicking the faults of teachers and students. They are children spoiled by indulgence who will tire at the least hint of work and who will become disconcerted at the least punishment. They have become accustomed to seeing their least wishes satisfied and having all their little whims gratified.
Often students who have been poorly brought up are those from rich families, who think of themselves as being so superior as to give themselves an air of authority over their fellow students and independence from their teachers and who believe that they have a right to special consideration and attentions. If it happens that someone makes fun of their ridiculous pretensions, they complain to their parents of poor treatment.
Such young people have great need of being formed by proper education. To achieve this requires much patience, kindness, and charity. A teacher will have to treat them with considerable indulgence, because if they have all these faults, it is not due to a shallow spirit or bad judgment or a poor internal disposition but because they have been left to grow up without direction. You must show them a lot of kindness, display an interest in them, and correct them when necessary, but always in a fatherly manner; when you do correct them, give them only easy punishments that will really help them.
It is also good to have contact with parents in such situations in order to anticipate the accusations and recriminations of the young person and to support your own authority with theirs. This is a troublesome and delicate task. Expect to have a lot of duplicity and annoyance, but strengthen yourself by remembering the example given by our Lord: he also educated, not only children and young parents but also persons already advanced in age and consequently possessing all the prejudices and the bad habits that people so often pick up in the course of their lives.
In fact, recall that the apostles, chosen and formed in the school of our Lord, were unsophisticated, unlettered, and taken from the lowest class of society and combined a lack of education with a lot of ambition, self-love, and egotism. Admire the unchanging gentleness and untiring zeal that the Lord always showed. In all his teaching and actions, he tried only to inform them, to instruct them, and to make new men of them. As teachers, then, meditate on this example and try to pattern your own teaching after it.
Unintelligent Young People. It is rare that a teacher will meet any young people so lacking in intelligence and memory that they can understand and retain practically nothing. These young people make no sound except when they think they are being punished. They are often sly, pouting, and surly, do not mix well with companions their age, do not take part in games, and keep themselves apart. A young person like this presents teachers with great obstacles. It is difficult to win the confidence of these young people because they lack openness and are often insensitive to signs of interest and affection. If they inconvenience you in class and bother their fellow students, you will need to work with administrators to ask their parents to withdraw them from the school. But if they are not a source of trouble for the class, it is great benefit to them that you will leave them in peace, limiting yourself to what is possible and being content with the little that they are able to accomplish.
Self-centered Young People. You will sometimes meet students totally concerned with themselves, often looking at themselves in a mirror, combing and arranging their hair artfully, possessing an affected walk, having touchy or extremely timid characteristics, constantly excusing themselves, and never recognizing any faults they might have. These young people can often be described as two-faced, lying, presumptuous, and bold. In class they will often be the first to attempt to answer questions; when they make mistakes, they will get angry and pout for some time. At the least correction they will feel hurt and wounded. They will always be ready to quarrel with their companions and will always use a lofty and superior tone of voice. These actions and attitudes point out to a teacher a self-centered young person. The teacher’s task is to correct this, and there are ways experienced teachers have found to bring about this result. If you find this in one of the students, then rarely speak to the student. When you do speak to the student, do so very seriously. If the student makes an error, do not fail to point it out; when doing this, however, help the student see that the resulting pouting and hurt feelings are ridiculous. Be careful always about not allowing the student to respond to your corrections as a teacher, and help the student understand the ridiculousness of his or her feelings and pouting in private as well as in public. Always, however, approach the student in a way that holds him or her in respect.
Self-opinionated Young People. Sometimes there are students who refuse to carry out responsibilities given them, who are stubborn to the point that all threats and punishments seem to have no effect on them, and who lay open resistance to a teacher’s authority. There are others who eventually give in but do so with such bad grace that they murmur aloud and make noises which disturb their fellow students’ attention. Sometimes, those who give in to the teacher assume a posture that is a kind of defiance of the teacher by putting their heads down on their desks, by making ridiculous faces, or by imitating the gestures of the teacher when the teacher isn’t watching.
Teachers should first avoid as much as possible giving occasion for such scenes, which can harm the good order of the class and undermine the authority of the teacher. If a teacher has not been able to foresee and prevent this situation, the teacher should refrain from responding too severely until convinced of the seriousness of a student’s behavior and the punishment deserved. When a teacher finds it necessary to punish a student in this situation, the teacher should wait until the student’s excited state is calmed down and he or she can be talked to without arousing a greater state of disrespect. The teacher has everything to gain by playing for time, since pushing the student to the limit will gain the teacher nothing. When the teacher notices that the young person is calmer, the teacher should use that moment to speak with the student, bringing the student, in an offhand way, to admit to both the original problem and the resistance to the teacher’s authority. A teacher will in this way help the student understand that a punishment is necessary only to repair the poor example he or she has given to other students.
Be sure to carry out the punishment while displaying great concern for the student, even if you ask the student to apologize publicly for the behavior. If the student persists in his disobedience, the student should be referred to other school authorities so that they can consider ways of helping the young person. A teacher should always take the opportunity to speak with the student’s parents about the situation so that the teacher’s authority is not compromised. Dismissal from school, however, should be used only as a last resort, after all other means of working with the student have been tried.
Teachers and schools should proceed in the same way when dealing with students for whom penalties seem to be counterproductive.
Insolent Young People. Teachers may have to deal with certain young people who border on insolence, who know no rule of politeness, and have no discretion or regard for anyone. They have a way of getting worked up over nothing, of being irritated at the slightest correction. When they become upset their faces flare up, their eyes move around like two hot coals, their bodies bristle up, and their whole being is agitated. These students so easily lose control of themselves that even the language of reason and kindness cannot make them recover at those times. Teachers should consider themselves fortunate if that is all they experience from such young people. Many of these students, heated up with anger, burst out with all kinds of insults, threats, and bad language and seem ready to go to any lengths in dealing with a teacher.
The best thing for a teacher to do in such a situation is to keep a profound silence, showing by a sad and postured air that the teacher pities the insolent young person and is waiting until the first fire of anger is put out. That is the moment for the teacher to act and to make the student feel the weight of the teacher’s authority. By words of severity and firmness, the teacher should make the student realize the fault, the unworthiness of the conduct, the shame that the student should feel, and the results that the student will then experience. If a teacher can have the student in this way admit to the wrongdoing, the teacher will have gained more respect and authority than was ever lost in the public display.
The teacher should then be content with a punishment of short duration, but one that is of the sort to impress the student by its severity. On such occasions, teachers should never fail to hold up for their students the virtue of politeness by praising it and pointing out that they attach great value to it. It is a fine opportunity to give students a lesson in being civil to another person, with confidence that at another time it will be remembered, to the teacher’s advantage.
Envious Young People. There are some young people, envious by nature, who are unable to see clearly that any fellow student may possess superior talent or merit. They build and hold a feeling of hatred for any fellow student who may appear superior. They speak to such students in a cold way, and the presence of these students annoys them. No matter what the other student does, they are offended; even the thought of another’s success causes deep feelings of hate and distress. They often go further and join to their animosity a spirit of strife. Since they cannot endure those fellow students who cause the jealousy, they seek quarrels with them and find fault with all they say and do. They are unable to see in their fellow students anything but faults and go so far as to distort their best intentions. From disputes they pass to fits of passion and fighting.
Was it not jealousy that led Cain to kill his brother and the sons of Jacob to throw Joseph into a cistern in order to expose him to death and then to sell him to foreigners? The secret of success in dealing with the poor slaves of self-love lies in winning their confidence. This is a difficult task and requires great prudence. These young people are by nature filled with suspicion and are erratic in their judgments. Try to build a positive relationship with them as far as this is possible. Then in all ways act with the utmost patience, because this fault penetrates deeply, like a vigorous plant that can be cut or destroyed on the outside but cannot be totally destroyed as long as its roots remain in the ground.
Profit by the control you exercise over such students to help them sense on every occasion how much this passion debases them in the eyes of others and how much it offends God, who loves everyone as they were created. Every time they happen to fall into this vice, impose on them as a penance some small prayer in which they ask God’s pardon for their fault and the grace not to fall again. Do not forget also to require of them as punishment to show themselves more gentle and charitable toward those of whom they are jealous and even to give clear signs of repentance by congratulating the others and saying something nice to them.
Young People without Integrity. Although most of the young people you educate will have an admirable candor, a purity, and an innocence, be sure that there are others who, even if still quite young, have already tasted the fatal fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The demon has already had access to the souls of these young people, and in an age so young they know a thousand secrets and have aged in the path of depravity. We even find parents, often religious ones, who in blind security are asleep in this regard and indirectly foster the vices of their children by laziness. These poor parents abandon their children to take care themselves, give them liberty to visit anyone, or make no choice of the companions that show up. They are unaware that it is enough to have one dissolute character in their children’s midst to spread the poison of malice and corrupt weak or impressionable natures.
Among the many young people in a school, it is hardly possible not to find some affected with this poison. It is your task as the shepherd of the young flock to redouble your care, attention, and vigilance in order to keep these sheep from spreading their evil to all those who are healthy and doing well. You will never be able to display too much zeal and activity in discerning the young people who are the plague of your school and whose influence you must at all price prevent and destroy. Look on them as devouring wolves that the devil has introduced into the sheepfold confided to your care, in order to surprise and kill the tender lambs who rely on you for their security. Experience will also teach you that these hearts have a particular skill in recognizing one another, guess at and attract one another. Surely the nature of evil favors these unions and friendships, for they quite soon have an understanding. A few words uttered by chance are enough to be understood; they already know one another and their friendship is formed. Since crime is the principle and bond of this union, your duty is to break it and prevent the results.
By what characteristics, then, will you recognize these young truants, and by what means will you be able to keep them apart, foil their tricks, or, if possible, work to remedy the situation? At first you will be aware of them from a certain desire they have to be together, to be a separate group, with an air of defiance and a certain separation from their teachers or prefects. You will also know them by their gestures and their attitude, by a type of isolation and staying apart, by an air too calm and quiet to be ordinarily associated with healthy young people of their age. Undoubtedly that will not be enough to let you make a sure judgment or allow your suspicions to become evident facts, but it will be enough to awaken your attention and further open your eyes.
Even if you have suspicion, do not give in to spying. That is tantamount to remedying one evil with another. By acting in that way you would spread among them the seeds of defiance, disunion, and hypocrisy. But try to see and hear everything yourself; try to surprise them at times when they see themselves not in view of a teacher and are not keeping up any sort of guard. Times of recreation, extracurricular events, field trips—those are the times that you must especially exercise vigilance. If you are vigilant, you will succeed in clarifying your suspicions and reaching a good judgment or a reasonable opinion about the condition of these young people.
If their inclinations are well enough known to you, you should at once bring it to the attention of the school administration. Administrators then will need to work with the father and mother of the student, in order to help them improve their son’s or daughter’s state by purifying the heart and enlightening the intelligence. For that, there will be a need for continued surveillance. To give this heart the goodness it has lost and to inspire in it hatred of whatever eats at the goodness, you must have recourse to all means of prudence, to all the resources of charity, and, above all, to the efficacy of prayer. If, in spite of all that, the student is unable to correct his or her condition or if you are seriously concerned that the student will have a bad affect upon the other students, it will be necessary for the student to be dismissed from the school.
Immature Young People. The greatest number of your students will be immature and giddy. That is a mark of youth and a characteristic proper to it. Do not be alarmed then, and keep from wanting always to bring students to a seriousness that is against nature. In connection with this, most of them resemble those butterflies in our garden that are always flying but whose flight is not regulated at all. They leave one flower, return to it, and then quit it to go to another, finding their nourishment and enjoyment in all sorts of places. You should take into consideration their immaturity and act toward them as a wise parent toward a child, with great kindness, patience, and tenderness. Rarely does a wise parent chastise, but a look and tone of voice take the place of reprimands and punishments, making known what the parent really thinks. These are the delicate devices that truly form the hearts of young people and give them nobility of character and loftiness of feelings.
Learn to put yourself within reach of immature young people, treating them with the indulgence that their age deserves, while distinguishing slight faults from those that reflect malice and dangerous tendencies. An immature young person should not be led by way of penalties, because, being susceptible only to transitory impressions, the memory of the correction is soon lost. The young person shortly after falls into the same fault, while not showing real obstinacy. As for these natures, the art of education consists in removing from them the occasions in which they most often fail; thus, in class, be careful to place them between the best behaved and most serious students, in order to remove from them all the small objects that distract and amuse them.
Generally these students have a good heart. Make use of this excellent quality to win their affection and confidence so that they will consider you less as a teacher than as a father or a friend. Above all, know how to arouse their striving by promising and giving them, at opportune times, rewards that flatter them. A skillful teacher knows how to draw a lot of gain from this procedure, for young people are easily led in this way. Wisely used, small rewards and praise can produce the most astonishing results in students. Also consider how consoling it is for a teacher to be appreciated by the students, to see that they obey less out of fear of penalties than out of fear of displeasing or of not earning the small rewards and praises that are handed out to those students who behave well. It is indeed easy for the teacher who really knows how to educate children to get immature young people to this goal. Most of the time the majority of them need only reflection and more developed reasoning to become excellent students.
Lazy Young People. Laziness is not only avoiding work and desiring to waste time away on all those enjoyments that are so natural for the young, but above all laziness is a softness and an indolence that makes students sometimes apathetic and incapable of anything that is serious, noble, and generous. This quality in some students is one of the most irritating, since it amounts to removing the hope of one day seeing the acquisition of good habits. Every good habit is brought about by doing violence to oneself in a series of acts. That is the way one can break in a fiery horse and make it gentle, docile under the master’s hand, untiring in work. What good use can one expect from a horse without this vigor?
Lazy students lack the active push that each of us needs from ourselves. They do not have the energetic zest that carries ardent students a long distance. They must then be pressured, sharpened as much by the promise of rewards as by threat of the punishments that they deserve. This twofold way dealing with lazy students ought, however, to be used with discretion and prudence, for there are young people who, if pushed too abruptly or too far, will resist such efforts and will become obstinate, believing that the impossible is being asked of them. They will then do nothing of what is requested of them. Every hope of then getting them to progress will be lost. The teacher, perhaps thinking them totally inept, will then abandon them to decay for lack of care and nurture.
Thus a teacher should avoid excessive zeal with lazy students and practice combining firmness with wise leniency. Teachers must be aware of the natural trouble that lazy students have with work and let no opportunity to overcome this problem pass by. Teachers must let words and counsel call lazy students to their obligation toward work and also join to that their own example and the example of others, using every possible way to encourage what is most noble in the young people entrusted to their care.
Young People in Weak Health. In dealing with young people who are in poor health, one must give them compassion, interest, and attention. It is important to lessen some of the requirements of them, to plan for them, and to see to it that they always find cleanliness in the school. It is especially important that the air be clean and often renewed. In anything related to instruction, although teachers should keep them in regular classes, they should be less demanding of these students when assigning duties and lessons. Even when the student is at fault, teachers should be somewhat indulgent as long as other students do not read this as injustice.
In general, teachers should treat such students like those who are extremely gentle and somewhat timid in character. These young people are not generally inclined to waste time as much as others, and their misfortune prevents them generally from getting into some of the difficulties that their fellow students face. The example of those who do well and the natural fear of penalties and punishments they see given out are usually enough to deter them from laziness and encourage them to complete their assigned work. It is often easy to keep such students in good order without severe punishment. Their physical condition, usually well known to others, will serve as an excuse for the teacher’s special way of dealing with them. A teacher can always use this reason in dealing with questions raised about equality of treatment.
Conclusion. The considerations discussed above can assist teachers in distinguishing the qualities of their students, in knowing students’ faults, and in guiding teachers in developing good order in the classroom and school. But these alone are not enough to give teachers a complete knowledge of teaching and the education of young people, a knowledge that each teacher must grasp in order to fulfill worthily the role of a teacher. In conducting a class there are a thousand details, a thousand circumstances teachers run into in practice that cannot even be conceived of before the circumstances arise. These will naturally disconcert a young teacher completely new to teaching and inexperienced in the ways students act.
It is necessary then to join to what has already been said some other counsels related to the running of a school. They can help a young teacher make up for the lack of experience that is naturally lacking in those who are beginning to teach and that often weakens the authority they need for success. Young teachers must not come to believe that it is age, body size, tone of voice, or threats that give teachers authority and inspire respect among students. It is none of these external advantages, but rather a character that is fair, firm, and modest, one that is consistent at all times and that never acts without reason or through outbursts. It is these qualities that keep everything in order, establish good discipline, see that regulations are observed, make reprimands few, and forestall punishments. Actually, the authority a teacher exercises over students depends, above all, on the way in which the teacher begins. Nobody knows a teacher then; they wait to see how the teacher presents himself or herself and then judge the teacher. Teachers who do not grasp this favorable moment, who do not put themselves in charge of the class from the first day, will then have all the trouble in the world in getting back the authority that they did not seize in the first place. The ideas contained here are meant to help teachers not fall into this trap due to a lack of good principles.
The Formation of Students to the Christian Life
This is what you can and should do for your students, if you really are zealous for their salvation. Hurry then; take up this work of resurrection, never forgetting that the special end of your institute is, before all, to sanctify youth. It is by this that you will contribute to preparing the world for better times than ours; for these students who now attend your school are the parents of the future, the parents of future generations, each one of whom bears within them a family. Influence them, then, by all the means of instruction and sanctification that have just been explained. Then, and only then, can you hope to attain the end of your vocation by the renewal of the Christian faith and piety. May it be so! May it be so!