New teacher formation institute imparts five marks of Catholic education
FORT WORTH — Monday, July 16 found about 35 teachers huddled quietly in groups of four or five around the tables in the Nolan Catholic High School library.
The morning had begun with Mass and breakfast but as the pleasantries came to a hush, the genial crowd turned their attention to preparing for their first year of teaching within the Diocese of Fort Worth. The first step on the journey: the New Teacher Formation Institute.
As its name suggests, the New Teacher Formation Institute encompassed more than employee handbook reviews or the requisite introductions of key personnel and resources. While necessary administrative housekeeping had its place, this five-day series of seminars centered on two primary concepts: mission and formation.
Bishop Michael Olson articulated his vision for the schools of the diocese in his 2017 address to principals and teachers when he said, “The mission of Catholic education in the schools of the Diocese Fort Worth is to open the doors so that our students can see further than the walls that would otherwise enclose them in darkness.”
Jennifer Pelletier, superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, has taken on the responsibility of turning that vision into a reality through formation at every level.
“We’ve spent the past two years forming our principals,” Pelletier said. “Now we’re forming our teachers so that they can form our children.”
William Perales, the new principal of Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth and the lead presenter for the week’s seminars reiterated the importance of formation.
“The call of Catholic educators is not just to educate,” he said. “It is to educate and to form. So we must ask the essential question, ‘Is this a Catholic school according to the mind of the Church?’”
The diocese seeks to gauge the answer to this question based on The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools, a book by former Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, Archbishop J. Michael Miller. The premise of this magisterial work, which has animated the diocesan movement towards classical Catholic education, is that just as the Church has four marks (one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic), the Catholic school has “five essential marks.” These measurable benchmarks state that Catholic schools should be:
- inspired by a supernatural vision,
- founded on Christian anthropology,
- animated by Communion and community,
- imbued with a Catholic worldview throughout the curriculum, and
- sustained by Gospel witness.
In his 2017 address, Bishop Olson distilled these concepts when he said that teaching students to see deep into eternity “. . . involves being able to recognize, appropriate, and cherish the eternal and transcendental goods of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.”
With such high ideals at stake, one might understandably feel overwhelmed by the gravity of the task at hand, but that wasn’t so for newly-graduated first year teacher Keith Matyasovsky, who will teach kindergarten at Our Lady of Victory in Fort Worth this fall.
“It was really heady stuff,” he said. “But it was good information. It taught us how to connect our faith to everything.”
Matyasovsky attended and student taught in public schools where he wasn’t able to talk about God. Now he’s looking forward to “professing my faith in teaching.”
Michael Carlson, a Nolan coach who joined the staff as diocesan athletic director this year, encouraged his colleagues to be mindful of living their faith in every aspect of their personal and professional lives because learning to live a life of faith extends far beyond religion class or even the subjects they teach.
“For a lot of these kids, it’s kind of weird for them to see how we put our faith into everything we do,” he said. “Being the best we can in everything we do is the best way to honor God.”
Full integration of faith is the crux of the formation-based education being offered in the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Fort Worth. Asked if this approach is a major paradigm shift for the schools here, Bishop Olson said, “No. It is a further clarification of something that’s already there. It’s at the heart of faith, hope, and charity.”