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  • Dr. Susan Skinner

My own red gradebook

Before PowerSchool and other such online grading systems, there was the red gradebook. It had a red hardcover, always red, both on the front and back and many light green grid-lined paper sheets in between. You had to handwrite each student's name for each class and every entry was made in pencil in case you ever had to correct any mistakes. Your protected that gradebook with your life because there was no back up in the cloud or digital copy saved on your hard drive.


For some reason around fourth grade, I wanted to have my own red gradebook. I really don't know why, but I wanted one of my own. Around this same time I remember hearing a homily at Mass (and yes, apparently in fourth grade I was paying attention at Mass) about how God has a vocational calling for each one of us and you just need to look for one sign. The priest said his sign was the Roman Collar, that's how he knew God was calling him to be a priest. He wanted to have a Roman Collar. I sat there thinking, ah ha - God wants me to be a teacher because I'm so drawn to the red gradebook!


Now to be clear, I don't think that the priest became a priest JUST because he wanted a Roman Collar.....and I didn't become a teacher JUST for my own red gradebook, but in both cases it was something that drew us to a place where we found a vocational home.


My time here in Rome is being spent with a group of 60-some people from around the world, learning and discussing what it means to have a vocational calling to the Lasallian charism, and what it means to be in association with others around the world who share that calling. Lasallian refers to those who are connected to the Christian Brothers, a teaching order founded by St. John Baptist de LaSalle in the late 1600's in France. The network has expanded to include not just the Brothers, but "lay partners", people like me. The Lasallian mission, rooted in the Gospel message, is to "provide a human and Christian education for young people, especially the poor." I fit in quite well since I can't imagine being anywhere else but a Catholic school, even though I gave up my red gradebook years ago. Back at school I see talented and hardworking women and men every day who share that same vocation. The desire to be in a faith-based school, working with young people, guiding them as they learn and grow in faith.


So today in Rome our conversation has been around how to create a shared understanding of "Lasallian identity" - what does it really mean to be Lasallian. It was a long day and we really didn't make a ton of progress simply because it's such a big question and there are so many perspectives - hence the need for two weeks!


From my perspective I would say there's three things in regards to what it means to be Lasallian: an affinity for teaching and learning, a love for God and the Gospel message, and a desire to be part of a faith-based community. Well there it is....cut our time in Rome short? Well, it's not so simple. The three things are just my understanding and experience. The reality is that the Lasallian charism is international, it transcends time and place and in some ways it's so elusive that once it's defined, a new dimension pops up. Let me give it a shot to explain my three things.


First - an affinity for teaching and learning. There's an old teacher joke that goes like this: "The reason I became a teacher is June, July and August"....uh...haha? While I get the sorta funny joke, the reality is that teaching requires something from within that motivates a person to show up every day for students. It requires being vulnerable, being humble and giving of yourself in a way that is hard to describe. Good teachers care deeply about their students, they want the best for them. To be Lasallian means that you have devoted your life to educating young people, to committing to being there for them and helping them to learn and grow. In a Catholic school this includes helping them find their place in the world. A place where they can make a difference, where they can live meaningful lives filled with a spark of curiosity, compassion and service to others.


Secondly - a love for God and the Gospel message. The Lasallian family, while welcoming and open to all, at its core is rooted in the Catholic/Christian faith. St. John the Baptist wrote tons of "meditations" for this teachers, writings based on the Gospel that helped teachers nurture their own spirituality . A hallmark of the Lasallians is an understanding that God is always present. We open our prayers with "Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God." While not all teachers in Lasallian schools are Catholic, or even Christian, they all understand and respect the basic belief that God is always present and that our work is holy.


Finally - a desire to be part of a faith-based community. When St. John Baptist de LaSalle first opened a school he invited the teachers to live with him. He formed the first Lasallian community, although he didn't call it that. The teachers (only brothers then) talked about teaching strategies, went over curriculum and continued to develop their shared religious identity - and this was in the late 1600's! Today as teachers we value so much the ability to collaborate with other teachers, to share our expertise and experiences in regard to the vocation of teaching. BSM is often defined by our strong sense of community, a sense that we take care of each other and want the best for each other. This exists not just among the faculty and staff but among and between students, parents, grandparents, alums and beyond. A desire to be part of a faith-based educational community is deeply rooted in the Lasallian charism.


My colleagues here in Rome would be mortified if they knew how I made this sound so simple - boiling it down to three things. I know it's not so simple, but for me these three things define how I have

come to understand my vocation as a Lasallian educator. I continue to learn and grow more each day and my time in Rome is only serving to strengthen my calling to the Lasallian charism.



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"There are two ways to see the world, one is as if there are no miracles, the other is as if everything is a miracle." This is one of my favorite quotes, its attributed to Albert Einstein.   This is the kind of thing I care about, having the eyes of faith has enriched my life in so many ways! 

 

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